This week, Engine joined the chorus of voices challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 decision to repeal its 2015 net neutrality rules, which were critical to U.S. startups.
Internet service providers would like you to think there’s broad agreement on net neutrality because everyone agrees cable companies shouldn’t block or slow access to websites and online services. But mention the words “paid prioritization” and you’ll get a much different reaction. The issue is sure to divide the House Energy and Commerce Committee during its hearing on the topic next week.
Ahead of the Federal Communications Commission’s vote late last week to dismantle 2015 net neutrality rules — which prevented ISPs from blocking or slowing access to certain websites — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai continued to misrepresent his plan as a boon to innovators and Internet users across the country instead of the ISP industry sell out it really is.
“The Federal Communications Commission voted today to strip the critical protections that made the Internet a level playing field for startups. With its rushed, party-line decision to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, the Commission is ignoring the pleas of innovators, investors, and everyday users to keep the Internet free and open"
Tech Community Comes to Section 230’s Defense. Thousands of Internet companies rely on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from being held legally responsible for what their users say online. That’s why we and more than 30 companies, groups, and organizations—including Copia, Automattic, Cloudflare, GitHub, Medium, Patreon, and Reddit—wrote to two lawmakers looking to narrow Section 230’s protections in the name of curbing sex trafficking. In a letter this week, we reiterated the tech community’s demonstrated commitment to the laudable fight against sex trafficking but explained that the new bill from Sens. Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal would have unintended devastating consequences for the Internet.
Alexa Accelerator Names Nine Startups for Inaugural Amazon and Techstars Program. Amazon, in partnership with Techstars, welcomed the first class of its new Alexa Accelerator. Amazon will incubate nine startups for three months, providing seed money, mentorship opportunities, and access to University of Washington researchers. The Alexa Accelerator is an initiative spun out of the Alexa Fund, and is specifically geared toward incubating startups that work on applying machine learning and artificial intelligence to voice platforms. Amazon’s Alexa product line utilizes voice recognition to allow people to interact with a robot personal assistant, and the company has been heavily investing in technology to help bolster the products.
The First Comment Period for the FCC NPRM on Net Neutrality Closes. Monday was the deadline for the first round of comments to be filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that addresses the 2015 Open Internet Order. Engine was one of over 10 million groups and individuals to file comments with the Commission. The deadline for reply comments extends to August 16. In its submission, Engine explained the need for clear regulations to protect startups from threatening behavior by ISPs and incumbents. “The NPRM’s indifference to the ISP abuse of their terminating access monopoly power is incredibly dangerous to entrepreneurship. Without bright line rules banning anti-competitive ISP practices, startups will be put at a structural disadvantage in competing with well-heeled incumbents, causing venture investment to dry up and innovation to suffer,” Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, wrote. The White House, which has been mostly mum on the topic, also weighed in on the debate this week. “The best way to get fair rules for everyone is for Congress to take action and create regulatory and economic certainty,” deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement.
Engine Testifies Against Bad Patents at House Judiciary Committee Hearing. On Thursday, Engine’s President, Julie Samuels, testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on the impact of bad patents on American businesses. Julie spoke to the weaknesses in the patent system and the progress that has been made to weed out low quality patents by Congress, the courts and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patent trolls, armed with low-quality patents, are able to extract settlements from startups and small businesses, adversely impacting the companies that can least afford these threats. Since startups and small businesses are key drivers of innovation and job growth, troll threats against them are particularly stifling to American economic growth and prosperity.
Engine Welcomes Reintroduction of Stock Options Bill. On Tuesday, Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Dean Heller (R-NV), along with Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) reintroduced the Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership (EESO) Act, bipartisan legislation that will make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options. Engine was joined by more than 70 companies and organizations in sending a letter supporting the legislation. In response to the reintroduction, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, noted that “The Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership Act will allow more employees to obtain a stake in the companies that they help to build and grow. This policy change is a no-brainer and a win-win for both startups and their employees.” Read more here.
Tech Stages Internet Day of Action for Net Neutrality. In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent announcement that it intends to roll back Obama-era open internet protections, a number of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Etsy, Amazon, Mozilla, and Kickstarter, have publicly announced that they will hold a national day of action in protest. On July 12, the companies, along with numerous other organizations (including Engine), will change their websites to bring awareness to the FCC’s attempts to undermine the free and open internet. At stake are the rules implemented under a Tom Wheeler-led FCC in 2015 that prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling internet users. The effort is reminiscent of the wide-scale internet blackout orchestrated by tech companies in protest against SOPA and PIPA in January of 2012, which would have resulted in significant censorship on the internet. If you or your company are interested in participating, you can sign up here.
Trump Asks Supreme Court to Revive Travel Ban. The Trump Administration has petitioned the Supreme Court to revive his immigration travel ban after yet another court blocked the effort last week. In a 10-3 ruling, a federal appeals court in Richmond, VA upheld an earlier Maryland ruling that suspended key parts of the Executive Order, which would would prevent entry for immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries and ban refugees from around the world. In response, President Trump has filed an appeal and asked the high court to temporarily lift the freeze. Trump will need the votes of five of the nine justices to stay the lower court orders and just four votes to add the case to the court’s docket. The startup community has pushed back against the President’s ban, with more than 300 startups and investors calling the it “morally and economically misguided” in a February letter to the President. We’re tracking.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the first official step in eliminating existing net neutrality protections this week. In a 2-1 party-line vote, the Commission adopted Chairman Ajit Pai’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which would reverse the 2015 Open Internet Order and the agency’s Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In a statement reacting to the vote, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Any effort to undermine existing net neutrality rules would greatly harm the startup ecosystem...We must not remain silent. Now is the time for the startup community to galvanize around meaningful protections.” Y Combinator founder Sam Altman echoed this sentiment in a Wired op-ed published the same day as the vote, arguing that startup founders have a duty to fight for net neutrality. “Without strong net neutrality rules...the cable and wireless companies that control internet access will have outsized power to pick winners and losers in the market,” he writes. The FCC’s vote initiates a public comment period of 90 days.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order and reverse the agency’s Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Today’s vote initiates a public comment period of 90 days. The following statement can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom.
On Tuesday, President Trump shocked the country by firing FBI director James Comey. The broader population probably knows Comey best as a result of his decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server just days before the general election. But Comey was an especially contentious figure within the tech community due to his broader pro-surveillance and anti-encryption stances and last year’s very public confrontation with Apple over the unlocking of an iPhone used during the San Bernardino terrorist attack. And while Director Comey’s relationship with tech companies during his time in leadership could best be described as tumultuous, it is unlikely that the President will appoint someone with a friendlier approach. During his time on the campaign trail, President Trump blasted tech giant Apple over its unwillingness to enable a backdoor for government on encrypted devices in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.