David Callicott needs to be online to run his small company, GoodLight Natural Candles in San Francisco.
Dozens of orders from wholesale customers like Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond are relayed online each day to fulfillment warehouses, which send out Mr. Callicott’s paraffin-free candles. The GoodLight website accounts for 15 percent of its sales, which could reach $1.5 million this year; the e-commerce behemoth Amazon makes up another 10 percent. And many of the company’s business documents are stored in cloud-based data centers.
Without those regulations, GoodLight and other smaller businesses fear they may not have a level digital playing field to compete against deep-pocketed industry giants that could pay to get an edge online.
“For such an analog product, we’re heavily reliant on the digital world and the internet for our day-to-day operations,” said Mr. Callicott, who helped found the company nearly eight years ago and now works with three other full-time employees. “The internet, the speed of it, our entire business revolves around that.”
A good Video on What is Net Neutrality
For small businesses, a rollback could fundamentally change how, and whether, they do business. Many started online or turned to e-commerce to expand their thin margins.
“Things are already difficult enough as it is for a small businesses,” Mr. Callicott said. “You’re busy enough just keeping your company running, trying to grow and succeed or just stay alive, that you don’t have the resources or the time to contemplate how to prepare for something like this.”
In the United States, 99.7 percent of all businesses have fewer than 500 employees, according to government statistics. Of those, nearly 80 percent, or more than 23 million enterprises, are one-person operations.
In August, the American Sustainable Business Council and other small business groups published an open letter to the F.C.C. on behalf of more than 500 small businesses in the country. Weakening or undoing net neutrality protections would be “disastrous” for American businesses, according to the letter.
“The open internet has made it possible for us to rely on a free market where each of us has the chance to bring our best business ideas to the world without interference or seeking permission from any gatekeeper first,” the groups wrote.
Many entrepreneurs worried that, without net neutrality provisions, internet providers would wield their increased power to control how businesses reach consumers.
Online consumers are a demanding crowd. Research from a Google subsidiary suggested that visitors who have to wait more than 3 seconds for a mobile site to load will abandon their search 53 percent of the time.
Changes in net neutrality regulations could also affect the freelancers, franchisees and temporary workers who earn a living doing piecemeal work in the so-called gig economy. Nearly a quarter of American adults made money last year using digital platforms to take on a job or a task, selling something online or renting out their properties using a home-sharing site like Airbnb, according to the Pew Research Center.
A pay-for-play internet system could also be problematic for Codecademy, an education company founded in 2011. Its services include courses on tech-related subjects like data analysis, website design and coding language — all conducted online.
But Zach Sims, the company’s chief executive, said that students, many of whom are aspiring entrepreneurs, would suffer most.
“They’ll perceive it as an unfair playing field,” he said. “As every industry is upended by tech, the barrier to entry is knowing what technology is and how to implement it, but this adds another level of confusion, making the hurdle even higher for normal businesses to participate.”