Following an outpouring of support for net neutrality from tech companies yesterday, 50 prominent venture capitalists have joined together to submit a letter to the FCC calling for a free and open internet.
According to Union Square Ventures’ Nick Grossman, the letter came together over the course of 24 hours, so some VCs aren’t on the list yet because they haven’t been reached directly. The group plans to submit the letter tonight, so it will presumably add names throughout the day. Even in its current form, the list of signees is a virtual who’s who of investors with names like Sam Altman (Y Combinator), Ron Conway (SV Angel), Chris Dixon (Andreessen Horowitz), Naval Ravikant (AngelList) and Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures).
The FCC is currently working on a new proposal on internet openness after its 2010 rules were struck down in court. Recent reports have suggested that the FCC could erode net neutrality by allowing ISPs to charge content providers extra for preferred access on their networks.
Here’s the letter in its entirety:
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
We write to express our support for a free and open Internet.
We invest in entrepreneurs, investing our own funds and those of our investors (who are individuals, pension funds, endowments, and financial institutions). We often invest at the earliest stages, when companies include just a handful of founders with largely unproven ideas. But, without lawyers, large teams or major revenues, these small startups have had the opportunity to experiment, adapt, and grow, thanks to equal access to the global market. As a result, some of the startups we have invested in have managed to become among the most admired, successful, and influential companies in the world.
We have made our investment decisions based on the certainty of a level playing field and of assurances against discrimination and access fees from Internet access providers. Indeed, our investment decisions in Internet companies are dependent upon the certainty of an equal-opportunity marketplace.
Based on news reports and your own statements, we are worried that your proposed rules will not provide the necessary certainty that we need to make investment decisions and that these rules will stifle innovation in the Internet sector.
If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the Internet will no longer be a level playing field. Start-ups with applications that are advantaged by speed (such as games, video, or payment systems) will be unlikely to overcome that deficit no matter how innovative their service. Entrepreneurs will need to raise money to buy fast lane services before they have proven that consumers want their product. Investors will extract more equity from entrepreneurs to compensate for the risk. Internet applications will not be able to afford to create a relationship with millions of consumers by making their service freely available and then build a business over time as they better understand the value consumers find in their service (which is what Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Reddit, Dropbox and virtually other consumer Internet service did to achieve scale).
Instead, creators will have to ask permission of an investor or corporate hierarchy before they can launch. Ideas will be vetted by committees and quirky passion projects will not get a chance. An individual in dorm room or a design studio will not be able to experiment out loud on the Internet. The result will be greater conformity, fewer surprises, and less innovation.
Further, investors like us will be wary of investing in anything that access providers might consider part of their future product plans for fear they will use the same technical infrastructure to advantage their own services or use network management as an excuse to disadvantage competitive offerings. Policing this will be almost impossible (even using a standard of “commercial reasonableness”) and access providers do not need to successfully disadvantage their competition; they just need to create a credible threat so that investors like us will be less inclined to back those companies.
We need simple, strong, enforceable rules against discrimination and access fees, not merely against blocking.
We encourage the Commission to consider all available jurisdictional tools at its disposal in ensuring a free and open Internet that rewards, not disadvantages, investment and entrepreneurship.
Puneet Agarwal, True Ventures
Sam Altman, Y Combinator
Phineas Barnes, First Round Capital
Phil Black, True Ventures
Brady Bohrmann, Avalon Ventures
Mike Brown, Jr., Bowery Capital
Brad Burnham, Union Square Ventures
Jeffrey Bussgang, Flybridge Capital Partners
John Buttrick, Union Square Ventures
Jon Callaghan, True Ventures
Tony Conrad, True Ventures
Ron Conway, SV Angel
Chris Dixon, Andreessen Horowitz
Bill Draper, Draper Richards
Roger Ehrenberg, IA Ventures
Brad Feld, Foundry Group
Chris Fralic, First Round Capital
David Frankel, Founder Collective
Nick Grossman, Union Square Ventures
Rick Heitzmann, FirstMark Capital
Eric Hippeau, Lerer Ventures
Rob Hutter, Learn Capital
Mark Jacobsen, OATV
Josh Kopelman, First Round Capital
David Lee, SV Angel
Kenneth Lerer, Lerer Ventures
John Lilly, Greylock Partners
Om Malik, True Ventures
Jason Mendelson, Foundry Group
Ann Miura-Ko, Floodgate
Howard Morgan, First Round Capital
Tim O’Reilly, OATV
Alexis Ohanian, Initialized Capital
David Pakman, Venrock
Eric Paley, Founder Collective
Naval Ravikant, AngelList
Neil Rimer, Index Ventures
Bryce Roberts, OATV
James Robinson, RRE Ventures
Toni Schneider, True Ventures
Christopher M. Schroeder, venture investor
Jim Stewart, True Ventures
Hunter Walk, Homebrew
Andrew Weissman, Union Square Ventures
Albert, Wenger, Union Square Ventures
Boris Wertz, Version One Ventures
Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures
Image credit: asharkyu / Shutterstock
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