Blake Irving, CEO and Board Director of GoDaddy, has advocated for the open Internet throughout the 30 year span of his professional career--including senior leadership roles at Yahoo! and Microsoft.

The open Internet has been the greatest force for positive economic and social change I've seen in my lifetime. It connects people to ideas, marketplaces, and one another. No one has felt this equalizing force of the Internet more strongly than small businesses.

Since Time magazine named "The Computer" the "Man of the Year" in 1982, the number of small businesses in the United States has increased by 49 percent. Thanks in large part to the Internet, the number and profitability of small businesses in America has grown rapidly. As American enterprises continue to reduce their work forces on average, the rate of establishment for new small businesses has grown, and the rate of failures for those businesses has declined. Those small businesses depend on the open nature of the Internet to compete against the vast resources of enterprise rivals.

Today, the open nature of the Internet is in danger as the FCC considers new rules regarding net neutrality. As I outlined in a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, I am deeply concerned about how proposed rule changes could adversely impact the economic engine of America--small businesses.

Thus far, the conversation on net neutrality has focused on the Internet's power to promote innovation, enhance market liquidity, fuel the spread of new ideas (regardless of their source), and connect people. But to millions of Americans, the Internet's open nature is at the core of their livelihood. They depend on the equalizing force of the Internet to level the playing field, giving them access to equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of size or access to capital.

The FCC must protect an open Internet and establish rules that allow businesses of any size to succeed or fail on the basis of their merits, not the size of their checkbook. Disappointingly, the current proposal under review would undermine the open Internet by letting broadband providers negotiate priority agreements with wealthy companies, which creates disincentives for them to support companies with humbler means.

The equalizing power of the open Internet is the differentiating factor in the success of millions of small ventures in our hyperconnected economy. Under the current proposal, most small-business websites in America could be relegated to the slow lane--transformed into second-class players almost overnight.

Establishing any rule for individualized bargaining of Internet speeds will hurt American small businesses and cause immutable damage to the U.S. economy. Proposed standards for what is "commercially reasonable" or definitions for "minimum access levels" ring hollow in light of the risks to our economy. Such vague legal standards would offer no relief or affordable recourse to small businesses and will push our economy backward.

Of the 1.1 million comments the FCC has received, more than 800,000 are available to the public for review. GoDaddy looked at the raw data, leveraging the Hadoop infrastructure and algorithms we use to customize products for our customers. What we've found is that small businesses from around the country have responded unanimously. Their sentiment cannot be segmented by red state or blue state, by urban or rural, nor by technical or nontechnical. The percentage of small businesses that commented in favor of the current proposal, to borrow a phrase from the movie Animal House, is: zero point zero.

"My small business depends entirely on Internet affordability," wrote one entrepreneur from Santa Barbara, California. "The Internet is seemingly the only place left in the world where people other than the already rich can participate in a meaningful way. Please don't allow a situation that will make it possible for mega-companies to have dominion over everyone else. The Internet is all about equality and fairness. Let's keep it that way."

Small-business owners have no doubts about consequences of the proposed rules. "I own a small business that will essentially be wiped away by this concession to bigger, richer parties," wrote a businessman from Noblesville, Indiana. "My business relies on net neutrality to survive, as a creator and hoster of Web content. But with this rule, I will have no chance against big money. My efforts will be made useless, and thus, you are killing my business with this 'small' concession in the fight that you have, until recently, championed...I hope that you all reconsider this course of action."

Whether the FCC works within the proposed framework or reclassifies under Title II of the Communications Act, the result needs to be clear, enforceable rules against access discrimination that protect the level playing field for all businesses. I encourage the FCC to consider all available tools at its disposal to ensure the Internet remains free and open. 

The single most important thing the FCC can do in its regulatory capacity is ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for ideas, innovation, and free commerce. The stakes are high for small businesses, and that means they are equally high for the entire U.S. economy.

The small businesses of America have spoken. Now it's time for the FCC to show it is listening.

Published on: Sep 11, 2014