Startups Fight to Defend Net Neutrality Order



Yesterday, Engine—along with a number of innovative startups including Dwolla, Fandor, Foursquare, General Assembly, GitHub, Imgur, Keen IO, Mapbox, and Shapewaysfiled an amicus brief in the ongoing litigation over the FCC’s net neutrality order.

Engine and the companies on the brief have long been champions of net neutrality, working hard over the past year and a half to ensure that the FCC enacted the strongest open Internet protections possible. Convincing the FCC to pass bright-line rules against ISP blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization was a major first step in reestablishing the net neutrality rules that were thrown out in court in January 2014.

But now the country’s biggest ISPs have banded together, trying to get an appellate court to reject the FCC’s order. Their arguments range from claims that have previously been dismissed by other courts (the FCC has never considered any kind of broadband to be a “telecommunications service”) to arguments that are profoundly bizarre (despite more than 4 million comments, the FCC did not solicit enough public commentary about its rules).

Engine’s brief makes the case that the net neutrality rules that the FCC passed earlier this year are crucial to protecting the startup innovation that has helped drive the growth of the nation’s broadband infrastructure. It also argues that the entrepreneurs and investors that built the Internet economy have relied on the FCC’s work in protecting innovators from ISPs abusing their gatekeeper power over Internet access.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled to take place this December, and the court is expected to issue its ruling sometime in 2016.

You can read the full brief here, and some key excerpts are below.



The “virtuous cycle” is made possible — and drives demand for broadband services — because of competition and innovation by edge providers.  Consumers do not seek broadband services because of some intrinsic desire to access AT&T’s (or any other broadband company’s) technology infrastructure.  Rather, they seek broadband services for one reason and one reason only: because they want to access the overwhelming universe of content, information, and services offered by edge providers, the vast majority of which either are, or began life as, startups. Consumers that want access to these services demand higher quality connections to take full advantage of the Internet’s full potential, prompting broadband providers to invest more money in their networks.  And creative entrepreneurs find new ways to utilize these faster, better, and cheaper broadband connections to build more innovative services that spur consumer demand even higher.  


The connection between net neutrality and the explosive growth of the Internet economy is not a coincidence.  Though Petitioners attempt to confuse the issue by conflating the regulatory classification of broadband with the actual regulations enacted pursuant to that classification, it is undeniable that the Internet has operated under a de facto net neutrality regime over the past decade, leading to a tremendous expansion of both edge provider services and broadband adoption—the virtuous cycle in action.    


The value of strong net neutrality rules and the logic of the virtuous cycle of innovation has been recognized time and again by the FCC and the courts.  So long as strong net neutrality rules remain in effect, there is little reason to believe that the virtuous cycle will slow with the change in the classification of broadband.

But if broadband providers are permitted to “deneutralize” the Internet, the consequences for startups — and, due to the “virtuous cycle,” for further investment in broadband infrastructure and further innovation at the edge — will be devastating.  


Without an open Internet, many of these companies likely would have never been started due to the increased costs and uncertainty that comes with discrimination and paid prioritization.  Others would have wilted in the face of their deep-pocketed competitors who would have been able to afford access to the “fast lane.”  To change the rules of the game now by permitting blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization would disadvantage not only the amici, but also the hundreds of thousands of other startups and technology companies that have come to rely on an open Internet.