Imagine trying to buy your mom the perfect holiday gift from her favorite small designer’s website, only to find that you’re browsing at dial-up speeds and the images won’t load. Chances are, you won’t stick around to make a purchase and that small business will lose a critical sale.
Now, multiply that experience by the 1.9 million Etsy sellers and 29.6 million small businesses who depend on the open internet to compete with much larger, more established brands. Nine out of ten of our sellers are women, and most are running businesses out of their homes, many of them in rural communities.
These are the people who stand to lose the most when the FCC votes to overturn net neutrality protections this week. Under the FCC’s new proposal, businesses that can’t pay off big cable companies could find themselves in the internet slow lane or blocked altogether.
The internet has made it easy for anyone to be an entrepreneur. In the aftermath of the 2008 recession, three out of five U.S. counties saw more businesses close than open, but creative entrepreneurs continued to open Etsy shops and grow their businesses. The internet made that possible. By closing the gates on the open internet, the FCC’s action will stifle microbusiness growth and suffocate the U.S. economy.
Our community of creative entrepreneurs understands what’s at stake. Nearly 35,000 Etsy sellers have submitted comments to the FCC this year opposing Chairman Pai’s proposals. These are the real people powering our economy. The threat they face is perhaps best described by Amy from the Etsy shop Crafting4Caleb in Grand Rapids, Michigan.“I run my embroidery business from my home to raise funds for my special needs son’s medical bills and ongoing care,” she wrote in a letter to Chairman Pai. “As an Etsy seller, net neutrality is essential to the success of my business and my ability to care for myself and my family.”
FCC Chairman Pai would have you believe that this week’s vote won’t have any negative consequences, and that we don’t need clear, bright line rules preventing cable companies from abusing their power over the internet. Unfortunately, history proves otherwise.
I know because I’ve experienced it. In 2008, as CEO of Skype, many large telecom companies attempted to limit access to our service, simply because easier access to free phone calls was a threat to their businesses. We were one of the first companies to push for open internet regulations, working with both Republican and Democratic FCC Chairs to outline strong net neutrality protections and ensure an equal playing field for all internet users. Now, almost 10 years later, the stakes are exponentially higher. More people than ever rely on the internet to make a living.
While I recognize that there’s little we can do to prevent the FCC from voting to overturn net neutrality protections this week, this is not the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning of the next battle, in the courts and in Congress, to preserve the open internet.
If we succeed, and I believe we still can, the internet will continue to be a thriving ecosystem that enables millions of microbusinesses around the world to start, grow, and flourish.