The alternative payments provider Dwolla insists that regulating Internet traffic will hurt startups, and it is among a group of companies that will argue this point before the Federal Communications Commission on July 15.
The topic at issue is net neutrality, or the concept of whether all companies on the Internet should be treated equally by Internet Service Providers. Tom Wheeler, FCC's chairman, has promised to maintain an "open internet" in which all users' access is treated equally. But some smaller companies and consumer groups argue that the FCC's current proposed Internet regulations give ISPs latitude to create different fee-based "lanes" for certain users.
Dwolla uses the Internet as a payments network, enabling fund transfers and credit-based payments. The company handles payments and related services about 35,000 businesses of different sizes, as well as government clients.
For smaller companies fee-based "lanes" on the Internet would create more expense or reduce options among technology companies or business partners, says Ben Milne, CEO of Dwolla.
"Most of us have a good connection to the Internet. So what is actually wrong?" he says.
Innovative payment processors would be unable to compete "on merit" under those circumstances, Dwolla says, and ending net neutrality would make it harder for payment networks to combat fraud. And even if a processor could afford the "fast lane," consumers would face new fees, Dwolla contends.
"There is no doubt that if a developer builds an app for the [Apple] App store or Google Play, Apple or Google could afford the 'fast lane,'" Milne says. "But what is the next mobile operating system that anyone else would use? If a developer builds software for another ecosystem that doesn't have access to the fast lane, as the app that they build for Apple or Google does, that gives theses big companies an advantage over the small companies."
Dwolla is hoping to alert companies that use the Internet as a payments engine of possible expensive changes on the horizon, Milne says.
"There are layers of ambiguity to the proposed policy," says Jordan Lampe, director of communications for Dwolla, who says the company will argue against any FCC rules that include pay discrimination, 'pay for prioritization' or 'blocking.'
"Saying 'I don't know how it will impact the payments industry,' or 'I don't think it will' is not good enough to not get involved," Lampe says.
While the FCC's proposed rules on net neutrality are still developing, slower speeds even 15 seconds could challenge a payment company's ability to provide a good user experience, says Rick Oglesby, a senior analyst and consultant at Double Diamond Research.
"The impact of the FCC's moves is all pretty speculative at this point, but it makes sense from a client advocacy perspective for Ben [Milne] to do this," Oglesby says.
The companies joining Dwolla at the FCC meeting will include the crowdfunding site Kickstarter and the social app maker Foursquare.