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Silicon Valley needs heartland help in net neutrality fight

Photo illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The Bay Area has long been a bastion of support for strong net neutrality rules. Now supporters are looking somewhere else for backup: Trump country.

Why it matters: With net neutrality rules under assault, proponents know they need to get the attention of policymakers with roots in the heartland to show support isn't isolated to the Silicon Valley bubble.

The push:

  • Ashley Boyd, who leads advocacy for Mozilla, said it was important for lawmakers and Trump to see what dismantling net neutrality rules could mean for their constituents. "Those voices in this situation could be very powerful," she said.
  • Sam Altman, the leader of startup incubator Y Combinator, is planning an upcoming swing through the midwest. "I'm actually going on a trip in two weeks to meet some tech companies in the midwest and just figure out what people are interested in, organizing, willing to do," he told Axios during a conversation in YC's offices in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood. Asked how much he was thinking about rallying non-Bay Area startups, his response was quick: "A lot."
  • YC, incubator Techstars and advocacy group Engine pushed to get companies from all 50 states to sign on to a letter urging the FCC to keep the regulations. Techstars co-chief executive, David Cohen, published an op-ed on the issue in the Kansas City Star, the home state paper of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
  • Evan Engstrom, Engine's executive director, said getting midwest startups involved is key to responding to new political realities. "That effort, I think, just kind of intensified after the election this time around," he said. "Because so much of the message was 'There's this great swath of the country that is economically downtrodden and what's the path forward?'"

But, but, but: Pai also argues that his proposal is in the best interest of rural Americans, which he says will benefit from increased broadband network investment after the regulations are peeled back. Don't expect him to give up that ground, since rural broadband expansion is a priority for him.

The bigger picture: The chasm between Washington and Silicon Valley can seem wide after an election that jarred the largely-liberal tech industry. That makes the voices of entrepreneurs outside tech hubs like New York and San Francisco all the more valuable in major policy debates.