As the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality, Front Range technology and telecommunications businesses were already thinking about what comes next.
The repeal of net neutrality, which was passed in 2015 and prevents Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content, has several technology startups and small businesses thinking about ways to continue the fight.
“After it passes, and we think it will, we plan to keep fighting and support legal efforts,” Kristen Perry, communications director for Voqal, said ahead of Thursday’s vote. Voqal is a national consortium of nonprofits that aims to close the digital divide, especially among low-income communities.
Perry said that Voqal, based in Longmont, is concerned about the repeal of net neutrality both because an internet that is not open prevents its nonprofit members from easily connecting to the communities they serve and because it prevents those communities from affording internet access, something that can already be cost prohibitive for many.
A major concern is that in addition to large Internet service providers blocking or slowing down content, there could be fees or tolls to access content and prioritization of service based on ability to pay those fees.
“The repeal would be devastating to communities of color and low-income communities,” Perry said. “The Internet is a powerful platform for these nonprofits to get their message out. Without net neutrality, these communities lose access to that platform. They can’t afford to pay tolls to get content delivered equally.”
Other area businesses, such as Boulder-based Bonusly, say a slowed-down Internet hinders their operation and the sale of their product to customers.
Bonusly sells a cloud-based service that allows businesses to recognize employee success by giving small bonuses, that can be used or donated to causes.
“All our software lives on the Internet,” said CEO Raphael Crawford-Marks. “We provide cloud-based tools, but we also use cloud-based tools from a variety of innovative companies to develop, market and sell our software. If we allow entrenched Internet company incumbents to pick favorites and winners, these services may not be available for us. It’s like a company who makes machine tools telling Ford they can only buy supplies from one company rather than buying from what makes sense for their business.”
Crawford-Marks said he anticipated long-term effects on the entire economy with the passage of the repeal.
“It makes the entire technology ecosystem less innovative,” he said. “And if overall the macro-economy is less innovative and less competitive, we’re not going to be able to sell to as many companies.”
Other startups also see the potential for the repeal to inhibit innovation.
“A key responsibility of government is ensuring fair and open markets,” Boulder-based TeamSnap CEO Dave Dupont told BizWest in an email. “Repealing net neutrality will have the opposite effect. The effort to repeal our current protections will harm businesses and prevent future startups from getting off the ground. TeamSnap supports net neutrality, as it protects our company, consumers, economic growth and tech innovation.”
Several startups have been vocal in their support for net neutrality. Bonusly and TeamSnap, along with many other Front Range companies, signed a letter of support in April. Voqal’s Twitter account and website presently have information and numbers to call.
Bonusly has even gone so far as adding an option for clients to donate their bonuses to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a major player in supporting the fight for net neutrality.
It’s not just startups and nonprofits that are backing free and open Internet.
Longmont’s Nextlight, a broadband service provided by the city of Longmont, said it has no plans to change its coverage no matter what the FCC decided.
“We have no planned changes,” said spokesman Scott Rochat. “We’re owned by our customers, and our customers are our top priority. Nextlight was created in order to give residents more choices for their Internet.”
Rochat said he wasn’t sure if net neutrality’s repeal would bring Nextlight more customers, but that the service provider welcomes new customers.
“The Longmont community can look at what we do and what other providers do and make the choice of what provider fits their needs best,” he said.
Other cities along the Front Range, such as Boulder and Loveland, are now looking into municipal broadband, although they have not responded to BizWest’s query whether the future of net neutrality plays any role in that decision.
The city of Fort Collins is also planning on municipal broadband and is committed to free and open access, although the net-neutrality debate did not play into its decision to make that promise, said project and policy manager Ginny Sawyer.
Several major Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and CenturyLink — which recently acquired Broomfield-based Level3 Communications — have supported the FCC’s moves for a repeal. Large service providers have said that rather than 2015’s open-ended net neutrality, they would support a different set of rules be put in place that would ensure transparency in their industry.
The argument is that, although many large telecommunications and Internet service providers say they won’t do it, there are significant financial gains in paid prioritization and even slowing down the Internet to suppress competitor Web companies.
Boulder-based Zayo Group Inc. said it was waiting to see what the FCC chose but that the decision won’t impact its service.
“We are closely following the outcome of tomorrow’s expected Net Neutrality vote. No matter what the decision, it will not have an impact on the services we offer as a “backbone” provider,” the company said in an emailed statement to BizWest. “We believe our role at Zayo is aligned with our mission to provide enormous high-quality bandwidth and communications infrastructure to support our customers no matter what regulatory changes may take place.”
A major argument that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has had in favor of repealing net neutrality is that the regulations net neutrality has in place are limiting to small Internet service providers. Because they don’t have the resources to be able to prove they are abiding by net neutrality, Pai says the statute prohibits mom-and-pop and regional broadband companies.
At least one area small utility, Front Range Internet Inc. in Fort Collins, said it plans to follow the rules of net neutrality and supports its ideas.
“FRII is a firm supporter of an open and unrestricted internet,” Anthony Bertetto, operations manager, told BizWest. “We will continue with that as long as we can. We’re not planning on changing how we operate regardless of the vote.”
The issue for companies such as FRII, however, is that they rely on connecting to Tier 1 providers such as Comcast and CenturyLink to provide service to customers. If those companies put on restrictions, FRII will be forced to adapt. FRII services customers between Loveland and Fort Collins and between the mountains and Greeley.
Bertetto said FRII might even change which companies it works with, but that depends on who decides to put on restrictions and if boycotting a company that uses restrictions would weaken the connectivity FRII is able to provide to its customers.
While the repeal of net neutrality is meant to help small-business Internet service providers, Bertetto said it actually hurts them.
“Because we are a supporter of net neutrality, it will hurt us more than help us,” he said. “There are arguments on both sides of it, but we provide unrestricted connections and utilize a net neutral model. Changing that could affect the service we provide to our customers. There is a business opportunity to profit off of eliminating net neutrality, but that’s not how we operate.”