America leads the world in innovation and technology. Yet, there are some in Washington who are putting our success at risk by attacking internet companies for political expediency. Seven out of the top 10 internet companies in the world were founded in the U.S. Stifling innovation through baseless new regulations would be turning our back on what makes our internet economy and technology companies the envy of the world.
America is the land of opportunity where we are self-motivated doers, risk-takers, and entrepreneurs. We solve complex problems and pioneer new solutions. Our freedom to test new ideas with free market competition has made the United States home to the most inventive, highest value-creating technology sector in the world. American entrepreneurs can envision, test, revise, fund, and scale ideas faster and better than anywhere else. And that’s made American tech companies the peerless leaders they are today.
But their success isn't guaranteed and shouldn't be taken for granted. Decades ago, American government leaders chose a permissionless-innovation approach to the internet that empowers anybody from anywhere with a great idea and a bit of know-how to make their idea a reality. Entrepreneurs aren't singled out with special regulations, though like everyone else, they must follow general purpose laws.
The American approach works and everyone benefits. Research and everyday interactions have shown that consumers value the free services the internet provides like search engines, video and music streaming, maps, and social media. And that doesn’t even include all the value American internet companies have created outside of these direct-to-consumer services.
American manufacturers export billions of dollars worth of made-in-America goods thanks to internet-enabled services. We boast a $160 billion digital trade surplus with the rest of the world.
One example of a smart, innovation-enhancing policy that’s made all this happen is "intermediary liability" protections. These protections ensure that internet platforms aren't held responsible for third-party and user content they did not create, and without it services would be less willing to allow organic user-generated content due to liability risks. Platforms don’t have blanket immunity that allows them to turn a blind eye; they still must comply with federal law. And intermediary liability protections incentivize them to be Good Samaritans, looking for bad actors and addressing their actions.
Economic research commissioned by Internet Association found that eliminating intermediary protections — as some have recommended — could cost the United States more than 425,000 jobs and reduce America's gross domestic product by more than $40 billion every year. The results would be enormously negative for American innovation and the world at large.
Without intermediary liability, small businesses would be unable to grow due to enormous compliance costs, new artists would not be discovered, and grassroots movements that have swayed America would not have the chance to be heard.
To preserve our uniquely entrepreneurial and expressive culture, we need to maintain policies that embrace permissionless innovation, reflect free speech values online, and provide appropriate limited intermediary liability protections. A thriving and open internet grows our economy and will keep our country the land of innovation and opportunity.
Christopher Hooton, Ph.D. is Chief Economist & Head of Research at Internet Association, which represents the world’s leading internet companies.
Neil Chilson is a Senior Research Fellow at Charles Koch Institute. He was previously acting Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission.
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