What Protecting Democracy and Saving Net Neutrality Have in Common

Equal access to information is fundamental to both our economic and political freedom.

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By Oksana Malysheva

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In life, there are certain things we take for granted. Water is clean, the sky is blue and gravity is about 9.8 g. All these things are expected to never change, but if they did, everyone would take notice. Beyond just the average internet user taking a hit from a net neutrality ban, so will small businesses. This completely undermines both free enterprise and democratic ideals.

Related: Net Neutrality Is Officially Dead. Here's What That Means for You.

For those who don't know, net neutrality is a debate about your rights to free information. Take a look at this cartoon (courtesy of Media Alliance) that explains it well.

As of now, the internet is the image on the left. Every site has the same rights to bandwidth or speed. With net neutrality repealed, the internet becomes the rightmost image. Websites and streaming services pay for greater speed, leaving the little companies at a huge disadvantage. Beyond this, one could potentially pay to have an entire site blocked from a certain internet provider. This effectively closes the road.

Entrepreneurs are naive if they feel net neutrality does not affect them. They assume the internet is a wide-open field that is accessible to everyone, and God's benevolent eye constantly guards it. The world does not accommodate them, and their passivity on this issue reveals their damning ignorance. Without net neutrality, the open internet is no longer a wide-open field. It is the Wild West, and companies with big guns win shootouts.

Related: With Net Neutrality Repealed, ISPs Now Have the Censoring Power of an Authoritarian Government

Take the startup Shippo. This company is aiming to give Amazon-like shipping capabilities to small businesses, and it's working. They service small to midsize businesses such as Ipsy and Scheels. Amazon, needless to say, isn't happy about it. Imagine a world where Amazon could snuff out that business as quickly as it can wire funds to internet providers. Without net neutrality, Amazon could literally pay AT&T to block Shippos from even being accessible to internet users. Without the big pockets to match Jeff Bezos, the startup would never have succeeded.

Beyond that, imagine what could happen if massive companies start shootouts. What happens when Netflix and Hulu decide they've had enough of each other? Both are big gunslingers in the entertainment industry, and their deep wallets are more than capable of funding massive retaliation campaigns against one another. Both AT&T and Comcast would be happy to take the money and throttle sites.

Again, imagine a world where deep-pocket candidates can pay to have their opponent's sites put in the slow lane or even blocked by certain companies. Imagine the harm this places on democracy.

Net neutrality has been repealed. For now, there hasn't been any bottlenecking or throttling, but trust me, change happens slowly. Big companies like AT&T are not your friends.

Rights aren't taken away quickly -- they coil like a snake, easing until it's too tight to wriggle free. This isn't hypothetical. Take, for instance, what happened in Venezuela. Maduro didn't turn an oil rich democracy into a dictatorship overnight. No successful power grab begins by using lethal force on protesters.

Related: You Want Fries With That? Burger King Explains Net Neutrality In Less Than 3 Minutes.

It started with a special referendum to expand his presidential powers. He claimed it was necessary for crisis measures when oil prices fell. Not enough voters showed up to dispute it, although a few complained. This is because he silenced critics slowly, imprisoning them for false crimes. Before the people of Venezuela knew it, he had them in a choke hold. Now Venezuelans top the list of asylum seekers in the U.S.

We take a lot of things for granted in our fast-paced world. The internet is just one of them. America is facing a greater crisis by not showing up to the polls. You don't realize what you have until it's gone, and your voting rights are of paramount importance.

It always starts with the little things that get taken away. Don't let that happen to the land of opportunity, or possibly worse, the open internet. Equal access to information is fundamental to both our economic and political freedom. I grew up in Soviet Union Ukraine, a society that at the time did not have either -- and I am not taking this freedom for granted. Net neutrality is a privilege that deserves your fight and your voice. Information and opportunity have been equal up until now. Let's fight to keep it that way.

Oksana Malysheva

Managing Parner at Sputnik ATX

Dr. Oksana Malysheva is a managing partner of Sputnik ATX, an incubator based in Austin. At Sputnik, we believe (Nerds + Investment + Training + Mentoring) Community = Success. Our mission is creating positive social change through investment, education, technology and innovation.

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