By Paul Natinsky
In an era characterized by corporate greed and dominated by giant companies, Marvin Ammori has struck one up for the little guy. An attorney by trade, the 41-year old has spent much of his career trying to keep the internet fair and open for small, entrepreneurial companies like the ones he grew up around in the Chaldean community.
The key issue is “network neutrality” and it means preventing large companies that control access to the internet from playing favorites. For example, making some companies easier to search for or helping some companies’ websites load faster than other companies’ websites.
“The idea was to keep the internet more democratic and full of economic innovation for small businesses and big businesses alike,” Ammori explained. “ As someone who is the son of a small business owner—like almost every other Chaldean—the idea is for both economic innovation and free speech, to not let the big cable and phone companies control the internet.”
Graduating in three years from the University of Michigan before matriculating at Harvard Law School, Ammori had a plethora of opportunities and right out of the gate grabbed one, landing a job at a prestigious Chicago law firm. He acknowledges, “There is definitely a lot more money had I stayed a law firm partner…for 15 years.”
Instead, Ammori opened his own Washington, DC firm in 2011 and got in on the ground floor of the net neutrality fight, managing the battle for five years for cuttingedge innovators Google, Apple and Dropbox.
“When I had that firm, I got to work on all of the most fun and interesting telecom and internet policy issue,” said Ammori. He quarterbacked a major net neutrality fight in 2014-15, represented Google in an antitrust investigation and was involved in Wikipedia’s daylong “blackout” to pressure Congress to kill a bill.
The net neutrality fight is hardly over, but Ammori is handing over most of that challenge to younger people who are now in leadership positions at telecom and communications companies. Ammori said the Trump administration has stripped away Obama-era net neutrality policy, an issue that is working its way through the courts. “I think this administration just wanted to get rid of everything Obama that they could,” he said.
States are picking up some of the slack. California passed a very strong net neutrality law, which will go to court as well, said Ammori. He said that state has the fifth largest economy in the world, so its policy decisions will have international impact.
Always drawn to issues that he thinks will transform society, Ammori is now working for a company called Protocol Labs, which is trying to create internet protocols that make the internet less centralized. Protocols are the vehicles computers use to communicate with one another. A common one is the ubiquitous “http,” or hypertext transfer protocol. The way Ammori describes it, decentralizing the protocols gives small companies a fair shake in the data storage game; a little bit like Airbnb being able to compete with Hilton or Marriott.
“One of reasons I work for this company, we may or may not succeed, but we’re trying to do things to make it more possible for smaller companies to compete with bigger companies,” said Ammori.
“I was always on the side of the upstart, always on the side of the little guy, or the person who, even if they were big, they could help the little guy. Even when it came to the net neutrality fight, I was primarily working for non-profits or alongside the smaller start-ups.”
Ammori very much lives in the now. When he reluctantly turns his head toward the future, he sees biotech as a likely transformative issue as gene editing and other innovations take hold. He sees autonomous vehicles as an interesting game changer.
It seems obvious that there is a book in all of this somewhere for Ammori. In fact, he has already written one called “On Internet Freedom,” which was published on a small scale and from which he donated the proceeds.
Ammori sees a second book on the near horizon focusing on the intersection between technology and politics. He has strong concerns about “Rightwing populism, electoral interference, fake Twitter accounts and fake news,” worrying that these developments will allow tampering with Democracy around the world.