Republican Opposition To Network Neutrality At Odds With Position On Small Business

October 28, 2009 2:22 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Earlier in the week, Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), a member of the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, introduced H.R. 3924, which, in her words, aims "to keep internet free." Her bill comes days after Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a similar bill in the Senate.  Both bills deal with so-called network neutrality, and both would prohibit the FCC from ensuring that carriers treat all sites equally.

Blackburn contends that network neutrality would allow the FCC to regulate the internet "the same way it regulates radio and television broadcasts."  According to Art Brodsky, Communications Director of Public Knowledge, a D.C. based public interest group, network neutrality would do nothing of the sort.  Far from being the "fairness doctrine on the Internet," network neutrality, Brodsky tells Media Matters Action Network, would have absolutely nothing to do with content, but rather, with access, and access alone. 

Proposed FCC changes would eliminate the current structure that allows for discriminatory pricing schemes.  Carriers are naturally opposed to any change, and they have influential allies, including Blackburn and McCain, who are doing their bidding in Congress.

What is interesting, however, is that Republicans have long portrayed themselves as the benefactors of American entrepreneurs and small business owners.  In fact, one of the main arguments against Democratic health care reform proposals is that such reforms would put an onerous burden on small businesses.  In the debate on network neutrality, however, these same Republicans have thrown America's small businesses under the bus.

Like consumers, small businesses would benefit tremendously from a system where carriers do not get to pick the winners and losers.  Imagine that you are a small independent bookstore owner in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, which falls within Blackburn's 7th congressional district.  Under the current structure, carriers can choose to run Amazon.com faster than your store site, mainly because under the current pay-to-play structure, larger companies are able to buy better access. 

Imagine a consumer trying to get on your site, but its slow upload speed might prompt them to instead visit Amazon.com.  In this equation, you, the small business owner, are put at a competitive disadvantage.  Rich Brooks, of flyte, an Internet marketing firm in Portland, Maine, explains it like this:

Imagine if only Wal-Mart, McDonalds and similar delivery trucks were allowed on the highway, with the rest of us taking side streets to get from place to place. How long would small businesses and entrepreneurs survive in a business climate like that?

That is in effect what Blackburn and McCain are pushing for in regards to network neutrality.  And they are wrong.  With network neutrality, a carrier cannot discriminate, which would give consumers and corporations alike, the same access to the information superhighway.  What's so objectionable about that?

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