U.S Sen. Maria Cantwell, small business leaders and members of tech startup companies rallied Friday afternoon at downtown Spokane’s Washington Cracker Co. building to voice support of a congressional resolution to restore net neutrality.
The Washington Democrat filed a petition last week to force a vote on a Congressional Review Act that would restore net neutrality. It would allow lawmakers to overturn previous actions taken by the Federal Communication Commission with a majority vote in both chambers of Congress and the signature of President Trump.
“If we can pass this in the Senate, it will put a lot of focus on the House to also consider this,” Cantwell said to more than two dozen people in attendance at Fellow Coworking. “We just hope our colleagues will do their homework and really understand that while some of the cable companies have been successful, that can be undue power and influence on controlling access.
“We don’t want to see places like this innovation hub here (in Spokane) silenced because they can’t be the next Redfin, or next internet company with a great idea.”
In December, the FCC voted to end net neutrality regulations that prohibited internet service providers from blocking and slowing down online content.
Technology companies Mozilla, Reddit, Airbnb and Netflix and others have voiced support for net neutrality.
Cantwell said there’s more than 250,000 technology-related jobs in Washington, with more than 300 Spokane advertised on job-search sites.
“We want to help fill those jobs, but we have to build capacity, and an open internet is key to building that future job capacity,” she said. “It helps lower barriers to entry because it allows every company to build with open internet access and not be charged more or slowed down just because they might be competing with someone.”
Zach Shallbetter, president of development studio Uxilary and the nonprofit organization Inland Northwest Technologists, said companies are able to learn, innovate and grow because of open internet. He said without net neutrality, large internet providers such as Verizon and Comcast have control to restrict infrastructure paid for by tax dollars.
Net neutrality will continue to be an important issue as more are states are aware that it allows innovation to flourish, Shallbetter said.
“It’s a no-brainer to maintain open internet,” he said.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said the council passed a resolution last year expressing opposition to the FCC’s current stance.
“The citizens of Spokane and places like Fellow here depend on a free and open internet,” Stuckart said. “Our local entrepreneurs can’t innovate if they are wondering when they will have to shell out more money to an ISP to have their website or products have the same accessibility as the major international companies with wads of cash.”
Maika Foods Administrator Johanna Grider said open internet is crucial to the survival of her two-person business, which makes artisan, non-GMO veggie burgers sold in Whole Foods, Kroger’s and Costco.
Grider uses email and Skype from Fellow Coworking to connect with vendors and customers nationally as well as worldwide.
“If (email) wasn’t an option, it would be difficult for businesses to survive,” she said.
The Senate vote on the Congressional Review Act is scheduled for Wednesday.
“So, we still have time to act as consumers, as voters, as Washingtonians to say loud and clear please do not negatively impact the open internet platform with these rules that give cable companies the ability to slow down or throttle the internet,” Cantwell said.