Why the FCC’s net neutrality proposal is the right one for right now

December 21, 2010, 1:52 AM UTC

Despite criticism, a venture capitalist and former California State Controller explains why the Genachowski net neutrality proposal is a must-have for industry, the FCC, and the public.

By Steve Westly, contributor

Steve Westly

Nobody likes being stuck in traffic or choosing the slow checkout line at the grocery store.

Now imagine if you were faced with the choice of being forever stuck in the digital slow lane or paying even higher fees for faster access to the Internet.

Entrepreneurs, investors, and consumer groups all agree that open access to the Internet is vital to stimulating innovation and the economic growth of our country. The moment we allow broadband providers to pick winners and losers online, we make it more difficult for the free market to function.

Open and fair access has been central to the Internet’s growth since it was invented. Entrepreneurs have the freedom to create websites and products knowing that the marketplace is just a click away. What sets the Internet apart from more traditional marketplaces is that it democratizes commerce. It lowers barriers to entry and reduces start-up costs and time needed to bring products to market for every small, and large, business in America.

Consider, for a moment, how the Internet has transformed core industries – communication, education, and banking, to name a few. We can now talk with friends, get an advanced degree, or monitor our bank account simply by logging on. Even larger industries like energy and health care are poised to begin this shift to a digitized world, and we need net neutrality to ensure that transition occurs.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now poised to adopt an Open Internet framework that ensures the next 20 years online will be as productive as the last 20.

Reaching consensus on this issue is extraordinarily difficult, and the proposal is receiving criticism from some who believe it goes too far and others who wish it went even further. However, despite an intensely partisan atmosphere in Washington and well-funded opposition, the framework strikes a balance between stimulating increased investment in broadband infrastructure and ensuring the Internet retains the accessibility that has allowed it to flourish.

Chairman Julius Genachowski’s plan builds on the work begun by past Republican Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin and accomplishes four key goals:

1) Increases transparency for broadband consumers: The Open Internet framework ensures that consumers have the right to know how broadband networks are managed and serviced. The new measure implements sunshine regulations to ensure cable companies are transparent so that subscribers have the information to innovate. When problems arise they can be caught early, reducing the overall number of complaints to the FCC.

2) Protects the right to send and receive Internet traffic: The Internet will continue to be a platform for free speech and democratic engagement under the new guidelines. Broadband providers will not have the power to block and censor access to legal content, applications and services. The new rules also bar broadband providers from favoring their content over their web rivals by providing quicker upload speeds and better quality.

3) Provides a level playing field online: The Internet is a meritocracy – everyone begins on a level-playing field and the market decides which ideas succeed and fail. No single entity, be it public or private, should have the power to decide who succeeds and who fails. The proposed rules let the marketplace determine the most successful ideas.

4) Encourages increased investment in broadband deployment: The framework also recognizes that the Internet is a two way street. Broadband companies must have the opportunity to invest in their networks so they can continue to compete. These Internet providers need flexibility to manage their networks and to deal with harmful traffic from unwanted users and heavy congestion.

We all benefit when the Internet is more accessible, transparent, and free. By adopting this bipartisan framework, the FCC will finally settle the question of whether consumers or broadband providers should determine the future of e-commerce.

America has many strengths, and I believe primary among these is our ability to innovate. This set of common sense principles will unleash America’s entrepreneurial spirit to compete in an increasingly competitive world.

Steve Westly is the former California State Controller and is a Managing Partner of The Westly Group, a clean technology venture firm.