Big Telecommunications Companies Wage War On Small Internet Businesses (Editorial-Opinion)
Why Small Business Owners Should Protect Network Neutrality
Always trust the lobbyists to try to steal something from the American people and put it into the hands of huge, multinational corporations. Today, the lobbyists want the Internet.
As many Americans know, the Internet was primarily developed at American universities. U.S. taxpayers paid for its development. For a relatively small public investment, tremendous opportunities and wealth have been created. Some entrepreneurs have grown very rich. Small businesses have expanded and flourished online. New Internet-based businesses start every day. Customers have access to a wide variety of new information and products. New industries have been created. A major boost to the American economy has occurred as a result of this modest government investment.
The idea behind the Internet is that any company can put up a website and expect the same fair treatment. Consumers choose what they view, which sites they visit. No telecommunications company has the right to block access to individual websites. The telecommunication companies must treat all information transferred over the Internet the same. That is called "network neutrality" or "net neutrality."
The big telecom companies have a better idea: Why shouldn't they be able to control who sees what by collecting a toll on information transfer? In other words, in addition to charging for Internet access (T1 lines, etc.) and web hosting, telecommunications companies want to charge special fees to business owners to give them access to the Internet. They want to privatize the Internet. They want to own it. They want to control it.
This represents a major threat to small online businesses. Each telecommunications company could set up its own toll booth. Even if you pay the extortion to one telecommunications company, the other companies might block information transfer from your website unless you also pay them. As your information travels the Internet, it could run into toll booth after toll booth. From a consumer's standpoint, the consumer might only see a pre-selected group of paying Internet websites. If the consumer wants to visit somewhere else, he's out of luck. Either those sites won't be available, or they'll only be accessible at reduced speeds. The telecommunications companies would be able to discriminate against individuals or companies at will.
Larger corporations will negotiate with the telecommunication companies. It's difficult to imagine a telecommunications company blocking access to eBay or Google. But, small businesses could easily be left out. They won't be able to pay the tolls.
This privatization of the Internet is being disguised. The telecommunications companies present their plan in what seems a modest format. They'd still provide the current infrastructure on a "net neutral" basis, but new, upgraded infrastructure would be subject to special toll fees. They argue that demanding network neutrality is regulation that will stifle innovation. This is the opposite of the truth. The truth is that if one company had owned the Internet, there wouldn't be an Internet. It would be a relatively small private network. There would be no eBay, no Google, no Amazon, no blogs.
Who supports network neutrality? Groups ranging from MoveOn.org to the Christian Coalition support net neutrality. The Gun Owners of America support network neutrality. So does the American Library Association. That really is about the broadest grassroots support possible from ultra-left to far-right citizens.
Each group is understandably concerned with the consequences of telecommunication companies controlling content. Consider the argument made by The Gun Owners of America. If telecommunication companies decided they didn't support gun ownership they could simply blackball all sites related to the Second Amendment. Many see protecting network neutrality as protecting freedom of speech.
Who opposes network neutrality? The big telecommunication companies. Lobbyists. And, what one blogger has described as "The Sock Puppets of Industry." Those are front groups paid to represent special interests. They write fancy policy papers arguing why we should hand over the Internet to the telecommunications companies.
I urge all small business owners to support network neutrality. Visit SaveTheInternet.com for more information.
Peter Hupalo, author of Thinking Like An Entrepreneur.