How do you use the World Wide Web? People use it for all kinds of different things: to read email, post an update on social media, check in to a work meeting, navigate to a destination, enjoy a favorite song or album. It’s your choice.
When I invented the World Wide Web as an information sharing system in 1989, I aimed to create a neutral space where everyone could create, share, debate, innovate, learn and dream. That’s why I gave my invention away for free, so that anyone, anywhere could access and build on it without permission. My vision was an online space that would give people freedom — and America’s entrepreneurial, optimistic spirit embraced it with enthusiasm.
In the early days, there was a wonderful spirit of empowerment of individuals. I could read any blog I liked, and I could write my own blog with links pointing to my favorite things. Anyone could put their small business online.
Now that vision is threatened. That choice you have to use the Web for whatever you want could be taken away.
Today, one of the greatest threats to the Web in America is the plan by the Federal Communications Commission to roll back America’s open Internet safeguards. Net neutrality is the fundamental principle that all content should be treated equally online. It’s what ensures those millions of local businesses can compete on an equal footing with corporate giants. It’s what stops Internet and cable providers from slowing down services for those who don’t pay a premium, or blocking content that doesn’t boost their own bottom lines.
Why should this matter to you? Most Americans — 87% — use the Internet for everything from accessing information to earning money to watching their favorite shows and movies. About 6 million American students take college courses online. And American entrepreneurs depend on the Web to expand their businesses: By 2018, 92% of small businesses plan to have their own website. Without strong net neutrality safeguards, Internet and cable providers will have the power to control which services you access and how.
This week, I was in Washington telling America’s regulators and lawmakers the story of the Web’s invention, and explaining how dismantling net neutrality will result in fewer choices for consumers. But I need to ask you — the American public — to join me in making sure the United States retains its position as a leader of the free and open Internet.
Please help. If you believe a small group of companies should not control what you can access online, if you want your small business to be given a level online playing field, if you want the freedom to surf the Web freely with the same rights and privileges as others — call your congressional representatives today to urge them to stop the FCC from overturning net neutrality.
We’ll know next week whether the FCC will vote on net neutrality protections before the end of the year. Tell members of Congress that American voters deserve the free, open, neutral Internet that we need to support democracy and economic growth. Let them know that the Web is for everyone, and that we stand together, ready to fight for it.
If you live in the US, call your congressional representative and urge them to protect net neutrality.
This op-ed was first published by USA Today.