Net neutrality is the Houston way (courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)

My op-ed in the August 29, 2018 edition of the Houston Chronicle urging area Republican members of Congress to join the bi-partisan effort to restore net neutrality and avoid placing Houston’s economic boom at risk.

(courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)

Net neutrality is the Houston way

Our city’s flexible land use policy, “The Houston Way,” has paired with our organic entrepreneurial spirit, deregulatory impulse and appreciation for diversity to create a highly favorable commercial climate where both large and small businesses can participate in one of the greatest economic and real estate growth spurts in the country.

The loss of net neutrality protections puts that all at risk.

Recall last December, when at the behest of big telecoms like Verizon, Spectrum and AT&T, the FCC wiped away decades of net neutrality protections. By a 3-2 vote, the Commission eliminated our ability to determine which apps, services and websites to use, instead ceding that right to the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) we pay for internet access. Before, the protections prohibited ISPs from blocking, slowing or speeding up websites or applications and from creating slow lanes for sites that refused to pay enhanced fast lane fees. Plus, ISPs like AT&T or Yahoo couldn’t provide preferential treatment to their own media sites.

Essentially, the protections that the Federal Communications Commission enforced for decades ensured an open and free internet. Local news sites and those espousing politically unpopular views could all compete with the large media companies. Any new or small business could be found online and appear at the top of relevant search results. And, startups could launch without burning funds to pay AT&T, Spectrum or Comcast just to load their site.

Whereas net neutrality prohibited the ISPs that we pay for online access from picking winners and losers, the new rules allow it, ensuring victory to the ISPs, as well as to the dominant media and internet companies that can afford to pay ISPs’ enhanced fees such as Netflix, CNN, Fox, Facebook, Amazon and Google. The losers? Well, everyone else, including any startup seeking to be the next great thing.

Even in our politically divisive climate however, net neutrality remains popular across party lines. On May 16, a bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate passed the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which restores the protections formally established in 2015. Now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, the CRA requires additional support to pass. However, no Houston-area Republican member of Congress has yet to express support of net neutrality by supporting the CRA.

If Congress does not enact the CRA, potential entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners all across Houston will face new online fees that may create significant barriers, including:

  1. Difficulty realizing revenue because customers cannot easily find small businesses online.
  2. Greater expenses for online presence due to enhanced fees such as fast lane and quick website load charges.
  3. Increased expenses for every online tool used to track inventory, run payroll and pay taxes.
  4. Challenges for online startups to raise capital due to business uncertainty.

While the loss of net neutrality protections impacts the entire country, a city such as Houston will be hurt even more. We’re a city where 99 percent of businesses are small businesses and entrepreneurs know they’re welcome. Particularly vulnerable would be our city’s growing health care innovation sector. Startups such as Aprenda and Decision, which require the ability to swiftly and reliably move mass data across the internet, will encounter significant bottom-line pressure. Other Houston cloud-based startups, like cloud-based electronics manufacturer Macrofab, will also be hit by new fees.

Think of the net neutrality issue like FERC-regulated oil and gas pipelines. What if instead of independently regulating the interstate transmission of natural gas and oil, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission amended its rules to provide a significant and permanent advantage to major companies that build, operate and use the pipelines? This hypothetical example describes the FCC’s non-net neutrality rules.

Houstonians thrive in an open environment where everyone possesses the opportunity to succeed. The repeal of net neutrality protections disrupts this atmosphere and defies the future we imagine for our community. The Houston Way instructs net neutrality. I encourage our Washington representatives to understand the consequences of an economy without net neutrality and therefore support the CRA.


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