Repealing Net Neutrality Could Hurt Online Entrepreneurs

Here are some of the small businesses that stand to suffer from the dissolution of a free and open internet.
12/28/2017 01:12 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2017
Percy Craig cuts a customer’s hair.
Percy Craig
Percy Craig cuts a customer’s hair.

If you don’t use social media, you may not have heard about Chopping Block Barbershop on the South End of Stratford, Connecticut. Its owner, Percy Craig, advertises on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Booksy. Like his Facebook page, and you will find photos of fresh haircuts, “barbers wanted” ads and five-star reviews. Walk inside, and you will find Craig sitting across from his barbers, wearing a fitted cap with the brim low and texting on his phone.

Craig, 34, from Bridgeport, doesn’t know much about repealing net neutrality at first, but his facial expression changes when he learns it means his internet service provider, Optimum, would be able to charge him extra to access social media.

“I’m already paying for your services,” Craig said. “For the amount that y’all are getting paid, you shouldn’t be charging me any more.”

The FCC repealed net neutrality rules on December 14, and entrepreneurs who market their products and services online are concerned about the possible increased cost of advertising on social media and accessing their websites.

The internet has been a marketplace for a long time, and social media is a popular avenue for business owners to access customers they normally can’t reach. Around 34 percent of business owners surveyed by Square and Mercury Analytics sell through their own website and 40 percent rely on social media, giving them access to the 51 percent of Americans who shop online, per Big Commerce.

Chopping Block Barbershop is  in Stratford, Connecticut’s South End.
Percy Craig
Chopping Block Barbershop is in Stratford, Connecticut’s South End.

Craig, who founded Chopping Block in January of 2014, said he started out passing around fliers, and he didn’t have many other options. In the Town of Stratford, you can post signs on your business, but you can’t leave commercial signs on town property, and Craig said he has seen a Stratford official “snatch up people’s signs” from street corners.

He also said the town’s ordinances limited his outreach.

“Every now and then you still get people who live in this area who say they don’t know there’s a barbershop here,” Craig said.

Percy Craig uses this picture on his social media sites.
Grant Miller(screenshot)
Percy Craig uses this picture on his social media sites.

Social media gave Craig free access to customers his business normally could not reach, but now the cost may change.

In 2015, the Barack Obama’s approach to net neutrality shifted the internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, regulating it like a utility. This allowed consumers access to the internet without their service providers blocking or throttling content and it prohibited paid prioritization deals that forced consumers to pay for faster internet speed. Repealing these regulations would allow ISPs to charge customers for access to certain sites or block them the same way a cable provider can charge for certain channels.

In November, Ajit Pai, Republican chairman of the FCC, argued for the repeal that “consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

Raymond J. Keating, chief economist for the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, praised Pai for his plan. He argued on the SBEC website that Congress never intended to regulate the internet the way Obama did during his presidency, and he agreed with Pai that the previous FCC regulations created “greater uncertainty, higher costs, and reduced investment.”

Not everyone agrees with Pai or Keating. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Pai’s goal is “an all-out assault” on entrepreneurs that will “further stack the playing field in favor of the biggest bank account, chilling competition, hurting consumers and punishing entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

Craig said if his service provider charges him for social media access, he would likely have to “suck it up.” Between 30 to 40 percent of his customers come from his social media marketing, and he can’t raise his prices because people have already complained about his $20 charge for a haircut.

“In this area, you can only charge but so much,” Craig said. “[Raising prices more] is not a good look.”

Craig is not the only business owner with concerns. Ava Diamond, 53, from Stratford, said a net neutrality repeal would complicate her online coaching because she mostly promotes on LinkedIn, meets 50 percent of her clients online and conducts sessions via VSee, Facetime or Skype. She also helps military service members free of charge.

Ava Diamond and Kavvy Sonhos just started The Revolution of Healing website.
Grant Miller(screenshot)
Ava Diamond and Kavvy Sonhos just started The Revolution of Healing website.

Diamond started a new website, The Revolution of Healing, with her business partner Kavvy Sonhos, and its services are 100 percent online. Sonhos was unavailable for comment, but Diamond, whose ISP is Frontier, said if net neutrality is repealed, she won’t be able to give away as much.

“It takes away this opportunity to offer community service for people who need to heal from all kinds of emotional baggage,” Diamond said, “including our veterans…We want them to be able to access it.”

Neither Craig nor Diamond see a positive outcome to repealing the regulations.

More entrepreneurs against repealing net neutrality:

Tiffany Wilkerson

Location: Lovell, Wyoming.

Vocation: Owner and head trainer of CrZyFiT.com.

Thoughts: “This would make you go back to buying commercials. I can’t afford to get an infomercial. This would cut my income at least a quarter, if not half.”

Christina Emery

Location: Belleville, Illinois.

Vocation: Independent romance author.

Thoughts: “If you’re an indie author without a large financial backing, I don’t know what will happen.”

Tilly McReese

Location: Springfield, Virginia.

Vocation: Adult model.

Thoughts: “I could see [this repeal] in a dictatorship but not here.”

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