Join Etsy in Fighting for an Open Internet

This post previously appeared on the Etsy blog.

The Internet is built on the principle of openness. For the price of an Internet connection, anyone can spread new ideas or start a business — even spark a new industry.

It is this democratic access that makes the Internet so revolutionary. It is what allows Etsy sellers to compete with much bigger and more established brands. It is what allowed Etsy to grow from a tiny company in a Brooklyn apartment to a global platform that hosts over 1 million sellers worldwide.

Today, that access — also known as Net Neutrality — is under threat. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently proposed rules that would undermine the openness that has defined the Internet since its inception. The proposed rules would allow big companies to cut deals with broadband providers for faster access to consumers, putting them in the “Internet fast lane” and relegating the rest of us to the “slow lane.”

Etsy’s continued growth depends on equal access to consumers. Any rule that allows broadband providers to negotiate special deals with some companies would undermine our and our sellers’ ability to compete.

Etsy hosts over 25 million products, yet we are a low-margin business. We made a values-based decision to charge only $0.20 to list an item and 3.5 percent of every sale, much lower than other e-commerce platforms.

We spend considerable resources ensuring that large, high-resolution photos load quickly and efficiently. We have also considered offering our sellers the ability to create and share videos, which they could use to introduce themselves and the unique process behind their products. But our low margins would not allow us to pay for priority access to ensure our site loaded as quickly as rival sites if the FCC’s proposed rules went into effect.

If a consumer were to click on an Etsy shop and perceive delays in images loading or videos buffering, they would likely click away to another site, and our seller would lose that sale. We can’t predict the future of e-commerce or product innovations, but we want to ensure that Etsy sellers can reach buyers with the same technologies as any other online retailer.

Ultimately, the micro-businesses that sell on Etsy would suffer most if the FCC moves forward with this proposal. Most U.S. Etsy sellers (88 percent) are women running micro-businesses out of their homes. Taken individually, they may be small, but together they sold over $1.35 billion worth of goods last year. The Internet has democratized access to entrepreneurship for a whole new cohort of Americans, and Chairman Wheeler’s proposal threatens to undermine this progress by creating a pay-to-play environment that gives even greater advantage to entrenched interests.

That’s why we just submitted comments to the FCC calling for a strong anti-discrimination rule. You can read our full comments here. We also signed this letter with other companies protesting the chairman’s fast-lane proposal, and met with the chairman and his staff to personally express our concerns.

We want to continue to grow, and we think every Etsy seller and new company should have that same opportunity. If the FCC moves forward with these rules, it’s hard to imagine the next Etsy getting enough of a toehold to grow and succeed like we have.

The forces against us are strong and very powerful. The telecom companies that stand to benefit from the FCC’s proposed rules — Verizon, Comcast, AT&T — have armies of lobbyists and spend more money in D.C. than almost any other industry.

But real people all over the country are pushing back. Some are camping out in front of the FCC, while others are crowdfunding ads in D.C. bus stops. Already, over 650,000 people have submitted comments to the FCC, many of them inspired by John Oliver’s incisive (and hilarious) piece on Net Neutrality.

What can you do to help?

  • Submit comments today to the FCC to let it know that you oppose its proposal and urge it to preserve a free and open Internet. Comments are due on July 15.
  • Got five more minutes? Congress needs to hear from you too. Call your representatives and let them know you want the FCC to protect Net Neutrality.
  • Tell us why Net Neutrality matters to you — and let us know if you’d like to get more involved in the fight to protect an open Internet!

This is your Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.

Althea Erickson is Etsy’s director of public policy and the seller behind Brooklyn Assembly. Before she joined Etsy, she led the advocacy and policy work at Freelancers Union.

Note: Free Press doesn't accept money from business, government or political parties.

Original photo by Flickr user Suzie Sparkle