In 2002, when Yahoo was the Web’s main search engine and Amazon still mostly sold books, I founded a family-run Alaska-based e-commerce company selling custom mouse pads.
Over the last 16 years, our company has created custom-printed merchandise for more than 23,000 customers in Alaska, nationwide and internationally, including Hilton Hotels, Chevy, NBC, PBS and even the Alaska state government. We employ 30 people.
We’ve only been able to do that thanks to net neutrality, which has been the law and state of the internet since we started. But the FCC’s December vote to repeal all net neutrality protections, once in effect, threatens to wipe out our business.
That’s why I was heartened to read Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s recent My Turn in which she supported net neutrality. Unfortunately, she stopped short of committing to vote in favor of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would undo the FCC’s radical order to jettison decades of protections for small businesses like ours.
The Senator points out correctly that Alaska is special: Since Alaskans pay more money for less internet than almost anywhere else in the country, net neutrality is even more important here.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet users choose what websites, applications and services we use, without the big telecom companies like GCI and Verizon interfering with our free market choice.
Internet Service Providers like to argue that the only way to make sure important applications will get priority is if they are allowed to charge content providers to be in “fast lanes.” But their “solution” would only make the problem worse. It would put big-pocketed companies in the fast lane, while smaller sites will always be slow.
The ISP’s solution, which has never been allowed in U.S. history, will also destroy my business.
We’ve worked hard to build our internet presence, and we pay lots of money to ensure our site loads quickly for users everywhere. Thanks to decades of effort, our company shows up in the top ten Google results for over a thousand terms.
That’s not bad considering that we compete with Amazon, VistaPrint, and Shutterfly (the only one we’re slower than is Amazon). This all would have been impossible without net neutrality.
In the coming weeks, Congress will vote on whether they approve the FCC’s plan to let ISPs charge companies like mine more for fast lanes or even to simply load for their subscribers.
Every small and medium-size online business will be harmed. Even non-internet businesses that rely on online services to do basic things like run payroll will find that those services will cost more.
This isn’t hypothetical. Big ISPs have repeatedly said this is what they want to do. In 2012, Verizon told a court it should be able to charge any website any amount of money they wanted and to block sites that didn’t pony up.
Murkowski indicated she was open to the CRA in her op-ed, but had concerns about telemedicine and educators in remote areas of the state having clear connections.
Telemedicine is a real concern, but thankfully it will not prevent the Senator from supporting the CRA. The FCC’s 2015 rules that the CRA would reinstate allow ISPs to create dedicated special lanes outside their usual broadband offerings for very narrow purposes so that tele-surgery doesn’t compete with YouTube.
Similarly, having paid fast lanes won’t help a teacher in a remote area. It’s more likely the sites she uses would be relegated to the slow lane because they wouldn’t be able to afford the new prioritization fees.
Given the flexibility of the FCC’s 2015 rules, there’s simply no need for the ISP’s new fast lane model, which would only give sites priority if they paid a fee to the ISP.
That’s why I’m calling for Murkowski to vote for the CRA to undo the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections and protect Alaska businesses like mine.
Without her support of CRA, the company I’ve worked so hard to build here for over 15 years could well be destroyed.
• Jennie Stewart is the founder of Custom Everything Inc. and CustomMousePad.com, headquartered in Anchorage.