Guest view: Net neutrality is vital to consumers – and startups

by Montana Standard, Susan Carstensen

Imagine that you wanted to switch internet service providers (ISP). How would you do that? Would you reach for a phone book or would you hop online and do a search to see what other providers there were in your area?

If your ISP could interfere with the content you see, what motivation would they have to allow you to find a competitive ISP? None. You’d probably find that you only had one option for internet, never knowing that your ISP had blocked content from a competitor.

That wasn’t legal to do until December of 2017 when former Verizon employee turned Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, overturned net neutrality. This decision flies in the face of the environment we’ve known up until now – one in which your ISP couldn’t interfere with your browsing. They couldn’t block legal websites, they couldn’t make you pay extra to access certain services, and they weren’t allowed to throttle your bandwidth based on your browsing activity.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been able to build companies under the principles of a free and open internet. A requirement that ISPs remain neutral in dealing with internet content has allowed my colleagues and I to start and grow a variety of companies, perhaps most notably, RightNow Technologies in Bozeman.

That’s why it’s been startling for me to see my former colleagues, Congressman Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines, not step up, as some of the only technologists in the House and Senate, in defense of net neutrality. These principals were fundamental to RightNow Technologies becoming the company it was. They’re fundamental to the next Montana startup that will grow to the size and power of RightNow Technologies. I work with startup businesses every day that have that potential and it’s up to our elected officials to provide them with the same or better opportunities to be successful that we had.

Today, I’m proud to be a Montanan – part of the first state in the country to stand up to the FCC. Governor Steve Bullock recently signed an executive order that essentially reinstates net neutrality in the state. This move has predictably drawn the ire of large ISPs and their lobbyists. In the senate, Montana’s Jon Tester is also leading the charge to return a free and open internet. As Montanans, we should take a stand with our Governor and Senator Tester against the special interests that are trying to tear down one of the frameworks of our economy.

Don’t be mistaken, these consumer protections are fundamental to the continued growth of our tech sector. They are not onerous government regulations as some would have you believe. Montana was just the first state to recognize this and already New York and New Jersey’s Governors have signed executive orders based on Governor Bullock’s. Many other states have pending legislation and lawsuits against the FCC that seek to do the same thing.

I encourage you to support organizations that know we’re on the right side of history with this issue and let those that are simply pandering for big ISPs know how you feel. This is a great opportunity to make your voice, vote and dollars heard.

Susan Carstensen of Bozeman is co-founder of Yellowstone Growth Partners and former CFO &COO of RightNow Technologies.