Yancey Strickler is chief executive and co-founder of Kickstarter.
The world was introduced to Kickstarter when our Web site went live in 2009. But the idea had been around much longer: Company co-founder Perry Chen came up with it in 2001. The eight intervening years were spent doggedly trying to overcome the many obstacles that stood in its way.
One thing we didn’t have to worry about: access to the Internet. We didn’t have to negotiate a deal with a cable company or other Internet service provider (ISP). We didn’t have to hire lawyers to appeal to the Federal Communications Commission when we were offered an unfair price. We didn’t have to worry about whether our site’s content would be slower than a competitor that had some kind of exclusive “fast lane” deal.
Such roadblocks would have created enormous logistical and financial hurdles — ones so big they might have shut us down before we got started. But that’s the world that start-ups will be born into if the FCC moves forward with its proposed rules allowing paid prioritization — a system where Internet carriers can charge for access to a “fast lane.”
Kickstarter, like Wikipedia, Twitter and every other service on the Web, was built on the foundation of an open Internet. We would not exist without it. The more than 60,000 creative ideas that have been brought to life using Kickstarter — from new technologies to new restaurants to new symphonies — also depend on a free and open Internet.
Once a fast lane exists, it will become the de facto standard on the Web. Sites unwilling or unable to pay up will be buffered to death: unloadable, unwatchable and left out in the cold. It won’t be enough anymore to have a great idea and to execute it well. New entrepreneurs will have to pay their ISP tax, too.
Though Kickstarter is the largest and best-known “crowdfunding” platform, there are now dozens of similar sites out there. Competition is good. It inspires a better experience for customers. We’re happy to compete on the basis of our product. Under a paid-prioritization system, however, this kind of competition would end. Sites like ours would succeed or fail not on the basis of their passion or service but on whether they have the resources and desire to pay the big Internet carriers.
This proposed system would incentivize entrepreneurs to divert resources from their customers and staff and into paid deals with ISPs. Trading healthy competition for deep pockets is a terrible way to create an innovative, competitive economy.
It’s also a terrible way to promote a vibrant culture and informed citizenry. Allowing paid priority access and content discrimination would threaten the free exchange of ideas that takes place online, between people from all around the world, every second of every day. That free exchange is key to what makes the Internet such a powerful force.
The people who use our site are innovators, entrepreneurs, artists and creators. They’re the people who are making things that improve our world. They’re also backers — people supporting their neighbor’s dream or giving $20 to a stranger because they love an idea and want to see it come alive. These people have the passion and generosity that our world so desperately needs, but they have little influence in Washington.
The large Internet service companies, on the other hand, have massive influence. The investments they have made in our political system are paying dividends, and now they want to use their clout to set up tollbooths on the Internet.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says that he supports net neutrality, yet at the same time he proposes rules that would create a two-tiered Internet. Many legal experts believe that the best way to avoid that scenario is to reclassify ISPs as utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which the FCC left open as an option in its draft rules. We support that path and are filing a comment with the commission to that effect.
President Obama recently said that we need to be “a nation of makers.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why we must support a culture where entrepreneurs, artists and others are making their own success, not buying it.