Net Neutrality and the American dream for SMBs

GoDaddy CEO's letter to the FCC

Editor’s note: GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving sent the following letter today to The Honorable Thomas E. Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. 

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

GoDaddy is a technology platform company with a vision to help people to easily start, confidently grow and successfully run their own ventures by providing Internet-based business tools and services. With nearly 60 million domain names under management and serving billions of unique DNS queries every day, GoDaddy’s infrastructure represents a substantial portion of what Americans think of as the Internet today.

Our 12 million customers (9 million in the U.S.) represent the face of small business in our connected age. They are developers, dentists, lawyers, restaurateurs, retailers, charities, architects, inventors, accountants and artists. Overwhelmingly they are sole-proprietors or micro-employers with less than 5 employees—which is true of 85% of all business in the US. Most have been in business for more than 3 years and more often than not, they are women-led. Our customers are the backbone of the U.S. economy and proof that with the help of a little technology, the American Dream is still alive and kicking.

Our customers are diverse, but there is one characteristic that they all share—each of them depends on the open nature of the Internet to compete against the vast resources of enterprise competition.

The conversation on Net Neutrality has focused thus far on the Internet’s power to promote innovation, enhance market liquidity, fuel the spread of new ideas (regardless of their source) and connect people across borders, classes or economies. But to millions of Americans, the Internet’s open nature is at the core of their very livelihood. They depend on the equalizing force of the Internet to level the playing field; giving them access to equal opportunities to succeed, regardless of size or access to capital.

It is incumbent on the FCC to protect an open Internet and establish rules that allow business of any size to succeed or fail based on their own merits, not the size of their checkbook. Disappointingly, the current proposal under review would still undermine the open Internet by letting broadband providers negotiate priority agreements with wealthy companies while creating disincentives for them to support companies with humbler means.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business is the driving force behind the U.S. economy—providing jobs for 55% of the nation’s private workforce and 66% of all net new jobs since the 1970s. Small Businesses in America occupy nearly half of all commercial space, an estimated 30 billion square feet, and represent 54% of all U.S. sales.

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%. 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 workforces on average, the rate of establishment for new small businesses has grown, and the rate of failures for those businesses has declined.

Make no mistake, the equalizing power of the open Internet is the differentiating factor in the success of millions of small ventures in our hyper-connected economy. Under the current proposal, most small businesses websites in America would be relegated to the slow lane—thus transformed into “second-class” economic players almost overnight.

Mr. Chairman, establishing any rule for individualized bargaining of internet speeds will hurt American small businesses and cause immutable damage to the U.S. economy. Concessions, like the proposed standard 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 when abuse occurs) to small businesses and could push our economy backwards.

Of the 1.1 million comments you’ve received, just over 800,000 have been made available to the public for review and analysis. GoDaddy has looked at the raw data, leveraging the same Hadoop infrastructure and deep learning algorithms we use to customize products for our customers. What we’ve found, though not surprising, is that small businesses from around the country have responded with a unanimous voice. Their sentiment cannot be parsed by red state or blue state, by urban or rural, nor by technical or non-technical. The percent of Small Businesses who commented in favor of the current proposal, to borrow a phrase, is: zero point zero.

“My small business depends entirely on Internet affordability,” wrote one entrepreneur from Santa Barbara. “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.”

Main street 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 suspect there are thousands more small businesses that will likewise be shuttered because they too do not possess the cash to buy influence, either of the government or of the ISPs to prioritize their content. I hope that you all reconsider this course of action.”

Whether you work within the proposed framework or reclassify 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 you to consider all available tools at the FCC’s disposal to ensure that the Internet remains free and open.

Should you opt for reclassification under Title II, giving the FCC the clear authority needed to protect the open Internet, I ask that you also adopt broad forbearance as suggested by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)—ensuring that the FCC does what is necessary to protect the open Internet, and no more. In the EFF’s own words, “we call on the FCC to do the right and sensible thing and reclassify, we must simultaneously demand that the FCC explicitly reject any telecommunications regulations beyond specific and narrow prohibitions and requirements designed to create a fair and level playing field for innovation and user choice. Without broad forbearance, reclassification can become a nightmare for users, innovators and service providers alike.”

The single most important thing the FCC can do in its regulatory capacity is to 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 to show all of them, Mr. Chairman, that you are listening.

Image by: Scott* via Compfight cc

Blake Irving is GoDaddy's Chief Executive Officer and Board Director. He brings passion, vision, and serious tech credentials to this role. Before joining GoDaddy in 2013, Blake was EVP and Chief Product Officer at Yahoo!. Prior to Yahoo!, he spent 15 years at Microsoft. Blake is a graduate of San Diego State and received an MBA degree from Pepperdine University.