Representatives from a variety of startups, public advocacy groups like Engine Advocacy as well as the New York Tech Meetup flocked to Washington D.C. this Friday and met with senior congressional staffers as well as FCC staffers to voice their support for strong net neutrality protections in response to the FCC’s plans to allow ISPs to charge content companies for access to internet fast lanes.
Meetup’s general counsel David Pashman told me in an interview Friday afternoon that his company decided to participate because it wanted to counter the organized lobbying efforts by the cable industry. He declined to comment on other startups that joined the effort, but I have heard that Kickstarter and Tumblr were also part of it. Some companies are set to continue their lobbying efforts throughout the weekend and next week.
Pashman said that the timing of these efforts was crucial: The FCC is expected to release a notice for proposed new net neutrality regulations on May 15, asking the public for comments. However, he pointed out that the commission will only be able to vote on any regulations that were already part of the proposal. That’s why his company and others are pushing for the FCC to include the option to reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II as part of that proposal as well.
Reclassifying broadband under Title II is something that is vehemently opposed by ISPs, but Pashman said that it was “generally supported” by the community of startups that took to D.C. this week. “I’m not saying that it is the only way, I’m saying it’s important that it is included as an option,” he said, adding that from his point of view, reclassification would be “likely be the preferred path.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler went on the record earlier this week saying that Title II reclassification is still on the table, but Pashman said that it wasn’t enough to just threaten this as a possible remedy if things go wrong years from now. Likewise, he encouraged the tech community to stand up now and not wait for what he called a “SOPA / PIPA moment”, referring to the mass protest against the controversial copyright enforcement bill that only took off after the bill was already introduced in congress.
He added that it was important for tech companies to bring forward their own proposals on how the FCC could save net neutrality, saying: “We want to be in the position of supporting something.”