Since Thursday’s vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to roll back existing net neutrality provisions, the headlines have been dire: “Net Neutrality is Dead”, “After the death of net neutrality, what will the internet look like?”, and my personal favorite, “The Internet Is Dying. Repealing Net Neutrality Hastens That Death.” Personally, I’d bet a latte that the internet will survive. That said, the FCC’s actions are certainly meaningful for internet users and those companies, like Smartsheet, that rely on the internet to deliver their products to customers.
For those of you who have not been following this closely, the FCC vote means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be able to block or censor sites, slow the transmission of data based on content, and create a “fast lane” of internet traffic for companies and consumers who can afford to pay a premium for services. (If you’d like to dig in further, here’s an article on how net neutrality affects you and a handy Q&A.)
I believe that this repeal is a bad decision based on flawed assumptions and a faulty deliberative process. Procedural issues aside, the FCC’s action, if upheld, will likely stifle innovation and reduce competition. Even more problematic in my mind, the repeal of net neutrality threatens the equal access and free flow of information that an open internet offers, and the equal playing field it creates for anyone looking to start or grow a business.
Keeping the Internet Fair and Open
This country determined a long time ago that certain services critical to our personal and business lives, like water, phone service, and power, should be treated as essential public utilities and provided on a fair and equitable basis. I believe that internet access, and the free flow of information and communications that it enables, has become similarly essential and should be treated much like, if not exactly like, a utility. A fair and open internet has become a necessity for businesses — and many consumers — to survive and thrive in today’s world. The ability for ISPs to throttle data, block websites, and charge hefty fees to prioritize certain sites over others limits everyone who has come to rely on high-speed internet access as much as they do any other utility.
Preferential treatment toward those who can afford better internet access will hinder growth and innovation, much like a lack of access to physical infrastructure and resources hinders economic expansion. While potentially a distinct advantage for large cap companies, a pay-more-to-play-better internet will impede startups striving to get a great idea off the ground, as well as individual voices using the internet as a platform to be heard.
That said, the issue of open and fair internet access necessitates a look at the cost to build and maintain the resources required to provide that access. To the extent that the ISPs that build out infrastructure and provide internet services need to see a return on their investments, and have the capital to continue to grow by charging for their services, the burden must be borne equally by all. While this may mean an increase in rates, those rates should be raised across the board, without discriminatory treatment.
Predictable Performance is Key
So what does this mean for Smartsheet and our customers? Given that Smartsheet is an application delivered over the internet, upon which millions of business users rely, our team takes very seriously the responsibility to provide access and ensure performance for ALL of our customers. Without net neutrality, the chance exists that we’ll find it challenging to keep that commitment. If ISPs start to bundle websites for consumers or put paid prioritization in place, we’ll no longer be certain how our app will perform. It might be lightning fast or slower, and won’t necessarily be consistent from day to day or user to user. Those potential outcomes concern me a great deal.
I know how much our customers count on Smartsheet to help them execute on work and access information quickly. While I don’t yet know how all of this will play out, I do know that the team here at Smartsheet will endeavor to provide the excellent service our customers expect, and make the best decisions we can to support that commitment.
Take Action Today
The FCC's decision is a setback, but all is not lost. Congress still has the power, during a 60-day window, to reverse this flawed decision via a simple majority vote. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced recently that he would force a vote on the FCC action under the Congressional Review Act.
It's not too late for you to speak up and have an impact. Contact your congressional representatives today and let them know that protecting net neutrality is important to you. Not sure who your representatives are? Enter your zip code here to find your representative and use this link to find your senators. Let them know that you support fair and equal access to the internet.