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Reversing net neutrality is a tax on small businesses

Reversing net neutrality is a tax on small businesses
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It's official, net neutrality has recently been repealed. Given everything that’s in the news these days, you may not think that such a topic deserves any special attention. But the death of net neutrality will have far-reaching implications, and nowhere will the pain be more strongly felt than in America’s heartland.

My company works with hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses. The overwhelming majority of these businesses benefited greatly from net neutrality, the idea that all content on the internet should be treated the same way and that no internet service provider (ISP) had the right to discriminate and offer higher bandwidth or higher priority to those who pay a premium.   

But, suddenly, carriers are picking the winners and losers, and small businesses are getting the short end of the stick. 

As The Verge recently noted, the end of net neutrality means that, "Now more than ever, carriers are aggressively policing their networks and implementing restrictions on video quality and hotspot usage."

With net neutrality out of the way, you can count on more tiered offerings to pop up and the consequences can be dire. For example, imagine a small business selling, say, wool hats online. Until now, the company could count on knowing that its site would load up just as quickly and efficiently as any other site on the internet.

With net neutrality gone, however, the company’s ISP is at liberty to charge extra for that privilege. If the company refuses to pay, potential customers going on its site will be treated to a slow and frustrating experience.

You don’t need research to tell you what’s going to happen next, but Google did it anyway: According to a study by the search giant, visitors who have to wait more than three seconds for a website will abandon their search 53 percent of the time.

With more than a quarter of America’s small business announcing, in one recent survey, their intention to ramp up their online sales, the end of net neutrality means a de facto tax on small businesses. 

Given this fact, you might expect an overwhelming majority of Americans to support net neutrality. And that, thankfully, is exactly the case: As a 2017 survey by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation shows, there’s a broad bipartisan consensus in favor of keeping net neutrality unharmed, with as many as three out of four Republicans opposing the repeal.

Anyone wondering how to fight the Federal Communications Commission’s ruinous decision should pay attention to that fact and to the organizing principle it suggests: To reinstate net neutrality, we need to listen to small businesses across America.

For too long, the conversation surrounding this important issue has been framed as a matter of policy at its highest and most abstract levels, pertaining mostly to the technology sector and its handful of major, powerful companies.

That’s not the case: Net neutrality impacts everyone who depends on the internet to do business, which, these days, is all of us. Which means it’s a fight all of us, and not only special interest groups in Washington, D.C., should take on.

Thankfully, leadership on restoring net neutrality is coming not from lobbying groups but from local lawmakers who understand the potential devastating effect the repeal is likely to have on small businesses in their communities.

More than half of the nation’s states have already passed or are currently considering legislation requiring internet providers to respect net neutrality regardless of the federal repeal. These states include New York and California, but also Nebraska, a red state that nonetheless understands the critical importance of net neutrality to its small business community. 

It’s time for the remaining states to join in this fight. Like few other policies in recent memory, this is a struggle for the well-being of America’s economic backbone. The only ones who stand to gain from the repeal are the behemoths that benefit by placing more boundaries and restrictions on unfettered competition.

This is not the path to economic growth and technological innovation. As we head for the midterm elections in the fall, then, let’s make sure we demand of whomever we send into office, Democrat or Republican, to give us back the greatest economic growth engine in history, the free internet.

Washington made a bad decision; it’s time for the rest of us all across America to fix it. 

Austin McChord is the founder and CEO of Datto, the world's leading provider of IT solutions delivered though managed service providers (MSPs). He appeared on Forbes Magazine’s 30 under 30 list in 2015 and was named an Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016.