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Why the Fall of Net Neutrality Could Smother Innovation

Our current digital age was built on the creativity inspired by a free and open Internet. The long‑term consequences of repealing it may jeopardize that creativity. The Internet is a utility that can and should be open to the world’s innovators.

We are possibly living in the final days of net neutrality. There are countless articles and analyses out there examining exactly which regulations are changing and what the December 14 vote means for the Internet, but that’s only part of the story. What’s more striking to me is the enduring legacy these changes may have on the engineers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, the next generation of creators building a connected world we haven’t dreamed up yet.

There was much fanfare recently when a ZDNet article argued that the FCC’s proposed changes would not have a dramatic impact on the three core tenets of net neutrality: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) still could not engage in blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization. As it turns out, that’s not true at all. The reporter posted a follow-up with his revelation that the FCC’s public “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal is not the only official document outlining changes.

An unlisted, unindexed, undated document on the transition.fcc.gov website in fact proposes entirely deleting the current sections on the core three tenets of net neutrality. This is done in a seemingly misleading way while the publicly indexed proposal provides a guise of transparency. These aren’t changes you’ll likely feel in your day‑to‑day Internet experience on December 15, and may not even alter the web in any significant way for years.

The question with net neutrality is: if you start making the highway on which applications travel a toll road, have you now impeded creativity and diversity of ideas simply because of the barrier to access?

Thanks to open source and the cloud, you don’t need a large war chest to create and run an application. The best apps based on value naturally rise to the top and help drive innovation. You can build a whole application with a full stack entirely from open source tools, and the cloud infrastructure revolution allows any person with an idea to build an app running on cloud computing resources for pennies an hour.

If the Internet is commoditized into fast lanes and cordoned off into packages by ISPs, it’s no longer the best app that wins. It’s the companies with the money to pay for bandwidth. Imagine that in 2004 Mark Zuckerberg didn’t have the money to pay for high‑speed traffic to Facebook, but Myspace did. What would social media look like today?

The cloud and open source tools aren’t going anywhere. However, if ISP bandwidth and prioritization become the bottleneck to creativity, we may be squashing new ideas, new apps, and new innovations before they even get off the ground.

The same goes for small business going up against large corporations online. With net neutrality, the Internet is a level playing field where the advantage goes not to the big over the small, but to the fast over the slow. The Internet is one of the institutions in the world where the principle of equal opportunity applies most strongly, and losing neutrality is a real and present fear for entrepeneurs and innovators.

My concern is not the initial rollback of net neutrality rules, it’s where the ripple effect of these changes will lead us. The reason we’ve living in a world of smart devices, robots, solar power, and electric cars is because all these technologies came about through open tools and innovation.

NGINX as a company stands for creativity. We give people the tools to be creative on the web by dynamically solving for performance, reliability, security, and scale. We believe net neutrality has led to innovation that benefits us all. What happens if we lose the safeguards to a free and open web? Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, you can be assured NGINX will keep creating and innovating.

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