Story by Evan Brown // Contributing Writer | Photo courtesy of Joseph Gruber // Flickr
Twenty-four-year-old Lance Capitano of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, is one of a growing number of millennial upstarts looking to strike gold from developing an innovative smartphone application.
“Its called Squad Up,” says Capitano. “It’s an app that will bring hoopers (basketball players) together to play the game and meet people. It’s a social app.”
One of the greatest advantages millennials have compared to previous generations is the ability to access heaps of information at any given time. Whether by phone, tablet or laptop, sharing content is more intuitive to younger users who are capable of connecting to people throughout the world. This connectivity has allowed young entrepreneurs to capitalize, creatively and financially, from the platform without adhering to conventional standards of prior generations.
Yet a major threat on the horizon is capable of thwarting millennial upstarts like Capitano and stripping the essence of what makes the Internet beautiful: anti-net neutrality laws.
In a nutshell, net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers should keep access to the Internet and its content open, without favoring a particular product or website. It prevents ISPs such as Verizon Wireless, Comcast and AT&T from dictating what content is permitted on their servers or its download speed, allowing the Internet to be regulated equally and not grant providers an uneven amount of power.
ISPs are beginning to discover crafty ways of blurring the lines between what is and what isn’t a violation of net neutrality, however, and this could have a serious impact on small startups.
“The Internet is great because it allows anyone to launch business at any time,” says Karl Bode, editor of DSL Reports, a website dedicated sharing news technological information. “If you truly appreciate free markets, then you would want net neutrality, because it gives everyone an equal shot.”
One example is the Verizon Wireless application Go90. This video streaming app allows users to stream video content on their phones without the data going against the cap, which in effect, will lower a customer’s monthly data bill. Some argue this plan is a violation of net neutrality laws, as Verizon customers are more likely to use the Go90 service as opposed to Netflix or Hulu, since using the two apps would result in higher phone bill charges. In essence, this gives the service providers an unfair advantage and grants them the upper-hand over content providers.
“This dismantles what has made the Internet great,” says Bode.
The advantage given to ISPs in regards to net neutrality violations may stem from a basic misunderstanding of what net neutrality really is.
“Honestly I don’t even know (what net neutrality is),” says Capitano.
And it’s not just young Americans who are unaware, as many politicians seem to be confused about the subject as well. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz likened net neutrality to “The Obamacare of the Internet,” and Donald Trump believes it shares similarities with the Fairness Doctrine of 1949. Meanwhile, Jeb Bush has compared it to the Communications Act of 1934, and even Marco Rubio has written he believes service providers having different speed lanes “is not the injustice that it is made out to be.”
Caroline Craig, site editor for Infoworld, a website specializing in enterprise technology, understands how important threats against net neutrality are for millennials and how the spread of misinformation, intentional or unintentional, could potentially determine whether or not the Internet as they know it will change forever.
“It’s a case where politicians are not really listening to their constituents; they seem to be listening more to the lobbying dollars of cable companies,” she says. “I believe it is dangerous especially for millennials, because they recognize how vital the Internet is to all aspects of our lives.”
However, Craig does believe there are some candidates who fight for the issue.
“Bernie Sanders has always been a big advocate of (net neutrality),” she says. “He sees the Internet as vital to the free discourse of ideas,” says Craig. “Hillary Clinton has also said she supports the net neutrality rules.”
For millennial entrepreneurs in an election year, there’s certainly a bevy of issues to contemplate that will impact their future, from health care to civil rights to wage equality. It may be time to add net neutrality to that list as well.
“That may spark some controversy among small businesses,” say Capitano. “I definitely need to do my research more.”
This piece is brought to you by Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, launched in January 2015. The Studio M project is made possible through generous grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.