Why Net Neutrality Matters to Your Green Business

Have you been following the recent uproars surrounding net neutrality? If you’re a political activist, you can certainly understand Senator Al Franken’s arguments expressed in a recent speech at the Netroots Nation conference (and his subsequent petition drive on the subject). If you’re a tech entrepreneur working on a new Android app, you may well be concerned over the releases of a “joint policy proposal” by Google and Verizon concerning hardline and wireless net neutrality (and several tech entrepreneurs have already expressed their outrage in public).

But you’re an eco-entrepreneur… sure, you’re concerned about free speech, and may keep up on the latest apps for the web or your smart phone. But is this a battle you want to join?

Probably. While many of the discussions surrounding net neutrality can get very technical in terms of how data is delivered across various platforms, at it’s core, net neutrality is about maintaining the Internet as a both a marketplace of ideas, as well as a literal marketplace, in which winners and losers are determined by the merit of their offerings… rather than their ability to pay for high-quality delivery of their data to end users.

5 Reasons Why Net Neutrality Matters to Smaller Green Businesses

  1. Net neutrality keeps the playing field level: The internet provides a medium through which any entrepreneur, with a relatively small amount of capital, can reach potential customers and clients. You don’t need a huge ad budget, or a top-tier PR firm, to get your message out… and the success or failure of that message depends largely on your ability to read the market and craft an offering that meets demand. This especially matters to green businesses as our niche is generally dominated by very large, and very small, players. If you sell solar panels, for instance, do you want to try to compete with GE in terms of marketing spending? If you make organic t-shirts, do you have an ad budget comparable to American Apparel’s? Nothing wrong with either of these companies… but if “premium access” to buyers of these products can be had for a price, will you be able to compete?
  2. Net neutrality helps keep it local: Along the same lines as the first point, the current state of net neutrality allows local stores to compete with larger chain retailers, and local service providers to compete with larger multi-state or multinational companies. Again, no criticism meant of Wal-Mart or Best Buy or even Gaiam… but they can afford to buy premium access to local traffic, whereas you may not.
  3. Net neutrality lets “green” compete in the marketplace: This is true for products, services, and ideas. A green business depends on environmental issues getting traction in the conversations among citizens and consumers. Do you think you’ll be able to outbid the fossil fuels industry, big agribusinesses, or chemical companies, or their non-profit arms, for preferred access to internet users looking for information on environmental issues?
  4. Net neutrality serves as a check on greenwashing: Want to call out a case of greenwashing by a bigger company? You can do it on a “tiered” internet… but if those companies have “premium” access to users, your side of the argument may get a lot less exposure… or lost in the shuffle completely… and consumers will buy products that either don’t deliver on the environmental claims made, or that support companies engaged in environmentally damaging or socially irresponsible behavior.
  5. Net neutrality supports price competition: People are already concerned about high prices for green products. If you’ve got a lower-priced offering, a tiered internet skews the normal dynamics of the marketplace: a competitor who can pay for premium access has a much better chance of setting the prices for products and services.

net-neutralityEco-entrepreneurs have enough challenges; getting priced out of equal access to internet surfers and shoppers shouldn’t be one of them. As business people, we believe that a fair, transparent market rewards innovators… and the net is probably the best realization of a truly open marketplace.

Want to express your concerns over threats to net neutrality? Signing Senator Franken’s petition is a good place to start…

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of green blog sustainablog, which now features the Green Choices comparison engine for eco-friendly products. Check out our wide variety of offerings, including many models of Citizen Eco Drive watches.

Image credit: markrabo at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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  1. Thank you for kickstarting this discussion. We have been outlining the issues about net neutrality this week as well, and your list presents a clean, clear view of what is likely at stake. It will be interesting to see if/how this issue plays out in the midterm elections. In itself, it might not be a hot topic, but how it could change the online debate over the next few years!

  2. Christopher– Sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier… thank you for the kind words. Yes, this is a critical issue… for our democracy, as well as for small business…

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