My parents are both small business owners, so I often look at current events through the lens of local economies and entrepreneurs. When a federal appeals court recently struck down the Net Neutrality rules, I was immediately concerned about the impact on businesses around the country.

Net Neutrality is the basic idea that no company or government should interfere with how you use the Web. It ensures that the company you pay for Internet access can’t block where you go or what you do online. It also ensures that your Internet provider can’t cut business deals with other big companies and choke out smaller competitors.

These basic rules of the road have made the Internet an engine for American innovation, a critical vehicle for new startups, and a lifeline for small businesses. They’ve ensured that a small-business website is as easy to access as one for a mammoth competitor. No one gets priority. No one gets blocked or slowed down. Net Neutrality ensures we have a truly free market on the Web.

The Internet is essential for small businesses to grow, market their products and services, and reach new audiences. It’s a place where a neighborhood store can compete head-to-head with a big-box retailer because they’re treated as equals. In our still-struggling economy, Net Neutrality is more important than ever. We need it to foster job growth, competition and innovation.

But the biggest Internet service providers — AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others — want to destroy that level playing field and create a tiered system that looks more like cable TV.

And if the phone and cable companies start to choose winners and losers online, it’ll be disastrous for small businesses that can’t afford to pay new tolls just to make sure people can see their websites or use their services. Small business owners like my parents should be able to invest their profits in hiring staff and serving their communities — not in lining the pockets of Internet gatekeepers.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. The same federal appeals court that struck down Net Neutrality in January also gave the Federal Communications Commission a roadmap for how to save it. All the FCC has to do is reclassify broadband and treat it as the vital communications service it is. But the agency won’t act unless people around the U.S. speak up and demand that we save the Internet.

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Josh Stearns

Josh Stearns is the public media and campaign director at Free Press.
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