Published in Dayton Daily News

The federal government is on the verge of making it more expensive for small business owners like me to compete online, and it’s going to jeopardize our ability to thrive in the marketplace.

If the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implements its newly proposed Open Internet rule, Internet Service Providers (companies that sell access to the Internet), will be allowed to charge subscribing companies a premium to boost website download speeds, giving big corporations with deep pockets an unfair advantage.

Sure, companies like Netflix, who use a lot of bandwidth to stream video content and can afford to pay a toll for the Internet fast lane, won’t have a problem with the FCC’s proposed rule. But what about small businesses who can’t afford the cost of higher speed? Those companies will have to choose between longer download times or stripping their websites of new applications that are appealing to consumers.

In today’s fast-paced world, slowness is a competitive disadvantage. If the line is too long at the restaurant, would-be diners might go next door instead. If the bank’s customer service hotline is always log-jammed, callers might get fed up and move their accounts elsewhere. And, if a website takes too long to load, online shoppers will just try a different e-retailer.

Today’s web users are so accustomed to nearly instantaneous response times from search engines such as Google and Bing, that any website with a loading speed of more than a few seconds is perceived as taking too long. In fact, some researchers claim that anything over 250 milliseconds, less time than it takes to blink your eyes, is enough to make a person click to another website.

If the FCC’s rules become the law, the cost of providing an effective web site will be more expensive, although no one can predict by how much more. The FCC’s proposal states that fees charged by ISPs for access to Internet fast lanes have to be “commercially reasonable,” which is vague and impossible to plan for and calculate.

It’s not just my business that will be impacted, or even the hundreds of thousands of independent realtor-owned businesses I represent as president of the National Association of Realtors, it’s every small business owner with a website. The new rules will pit us against bigger budget companies.

Net neutrality and Open Internet rules ensure the Internet is a level playing field for all businesses. Whether small, independent or family owned, they all have equal access to the Internet, and it needs to stay that way. This is good not only for all businesses but also for all consumers, encouraging competition in any market place.

The FCC’s proposed rules will end neutrality and create a two-tiered Internet that rewards ISPs and taxes small and new businesses that can’t afford the price of speed. Instead of finalizing this rule, the FCC should go back to the drawing board and draft a clear framework that ensures affordable and reliable access to the Internet and that encourages small business growth and innovation.

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