Alexis Ohanian is an entrepreneur and partner at Y Combinator best known for co-founding Reddit, which has grown to become one of the largest community websites in the world. In recent years, he's become one of the loudest voices in support of internet freedom and its benefit to society. He believes the internet is the most powerful and democratic tool ever made for sharing information, and is a strong supporter of net neutrality regulation.
Today, I am calling on my fellow founders and investors (and anyone who loves the Internet) to join me in fighting to protect net neutrality. Internet freedom activists have organized a day of mass action to protect net neutrality on Wednesday, September 10th. On that day, every large company, every startup, and anyone with a blog or website should use tools available here (or create tools of their own) to organize their users to become an army of citizen-lobbyists. The internet needs you.
For those who don’t know me, Steve Huffman and I co-founded Reddit, one of the top 50 websites on the internet. I’ve got a webseries here on The Verge called Small Empires. I’m also a partner at Y Combinator, the top early stage investment fund, whose investments include Dropbox, Airbnb, Heroku, Pebble, Twitch, Crowdtilt, Coinbase, and ZenPayroll, among others.
Most importantly, like most of you, I love the open internet.
The internet is where we build friendships, conduct commerce, create and destroy
Today’s internet is the most democratic vehicle for free expression the world has ever known. It’s an open and free market for small and large businesses, giving any inventor in her garage the hope that she’s creating tomorrow’s Google or next year’s Facebook. It’s where we build friendships, conduct commerce, create and destroy; it’s where we live more and more of our lives everyday.
Which is why I take it so personally whenever those in our government try to destroy this place that is so special. We’ve successfully headed off some of these threats before: censorship bills disguised as copyright law (SOPA) and attempted mass surveillance laws disguised as cybersecurity (CISPA). But now we face a new threat, one that would undermine the most basic principles of the internet as we know it. That threat is a legal proposal by the Federal Communications Commission that would authorize cable and phone companies to create a two-tiered internet, with congested Internet slow lanes for all of us and fast lanes for the giants that can pay them. Why would the FCC want to protect cable companies who already face hardly any competition and make 90 percent profit on the internet service they sell us? The FCC has proposed a legally unequal web — one where those who provide us internet access would be gatekeepers, not gateways. It’s an internet where we’d all need to buy a permission slip (that most of us can’t afford) from Comcast or Time Warner Cable to compete, innovate, and organize equally.
We can’t let this happen. Really. This would be a clusterfuck worse than Comcast’s customer service.
Why are people in DC even thinking about this, let alone getting to the brink of doing it? Cable and phone companies spend more money on lobbying in DC than oil companies, pharmaceuticals, and most defense contractors. Worse, cable lobbyists go on to hold some of the most senior jobs across the government — including Tom Wheeler, the man at the top of the FCC. Even though millions of us across the world support Team Internet, Washington, DC is the one place where people cheer for Team Cable.
This would be a clusterfuck worse than Comcast’s customer service
The FCC chairman — and the phone and cable companies that are supporting his proposal — will say they’re actually keeping the internet open, but hundreds of tech companies, countless venture investors, and millions of people see right through it. The FCC’s proposal would explicitly create a pay-to-play internet, a dangerous proposition that threatens the internet you and I love so much.
There is still time for your voice to be heard. 1.1 million Americans have already filed public comments with the FCC —I submitted some on behalf of Y Combinator — and if you want to keep the internet a level playing field for everyone, you should join us.