By Chip Pickering
CEO of INCOMPAS
Were you elbow to elbow at the mall or big box store on Black Friday? Chatting with your neighbor who owns the hardware store down the street on Small Business Saturday? Are you planning to click your way around the Internet on Cyber Monday? After all, that Aunt Sally is hard to buy for.
But no matter how you decide to shop this weekend, many of the retailers and businesses you chose to support — large or small, national or local — are speaking out in support of more choice and competition for broadband service. Why? It’s saving both them and you money.
If you stop and think about it, broadband is central to the shopping experience — from consumers surfing for deals and planning their Black Friday strategies, to the retailers who depend on data, payment and cloud services to run their businesses.
Over 300 businesses have written the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling for more choice in broadband service by preserving and protecting common sense competition policy — both in the tech transitions and the special access proceeding.
And it’s not just the sweaters and toy purchases that move over high capacity broadband lines. If you filled up your car with gas, or stopped at an ATM, those transactions probably touched a broadband line served by competition.
That is why industry associations representing 150,000 gas stations and convenience stores and 70% of all the electricity providers powering homes and businesses also wrote to the FCC to ask that competition be enshrined for future networks.
But to give you an idea of the impact broadband competition is having on the economy, let’s break it down by the three shopping days this weekend.
How is competition helping big box stores and malls? This Summer, CIOs from some of the nation’s premier retailers came to Washington DC to speak with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler about the benefits of broadband competition to help keep prices low. Example attendees included Brooks Brothers, the nation’s oldest retailer and Pier One Imports, with stores in all 50 states.
In addition, the CIO of Simon Property Group, which manages malls with 30,000 retail stores supplying 600,000+ jobs, suggested new competitive broadband providers were the only ones willing to upgrade their malls’ broadband with next generation services at reasonable rates.
Small Business Saturday:
Shopping small is a big way to save. Of the 300 letters sent to the FCC, dozens came from small businesses. Many were from local chains with a few locations in their communities — things like flower shops or local arts and crafts stores.
The Broadband Coalition looked at the impacts of competitive broadband on small business. What they found was strong bond between small providers and small businesses who share a passion for providing better customer service. They also noted that innovations — like the cloud, Ethernet, and Voice over IP — from the competitive community have enabled small businesses to connect with a bigger audience of customers.
Earlier this year, the leading consumer voice for small business — the Small Business Administration Advocate — wrote a fantastic blog post calling for the protection of broadband competition policy as a way to help local retailers and mom and pop stores.
Last year, Cyber Monday sales online grew 15 percent over the 2013 mark. A phenomenon made possible by the evolution of competitive networks, rising out of the landmark, bi-partisan 1996 Telecom Act, is ultimately at the core of all the traffic and commerce that will take place on Cyber Monday.
At INCOMPAS, we are proud to have Amazon as a member. We’re equally proud of companies that build and maintain the Internet backbone like Level 3 and Cogent. We also count as members a number of data centers and key voices in the competitive ecosystem powering the transactions this weekend.
So how can policies keep broadband competition driving the economy?
First, the FCC and Chairman Tom Wheeler made great strides toward ensuring future networks will continue to be powered by bi-partisan competition policy. The tech transitions order will also continue to unleash investment and new ideas from providers other than incumbents — including new Internet companies and app developers who benefit from new faster, more affordable broadband options. But challenges remain as lobbyists and lawyers from the largest incumbent providers threaten to pick that deal apart.
Second, the FCC can continue to prioritize competition data. In another big credit to this FCC, after a 10 year delay, data that can assist communities to identify places where broadband competition is lacking will become available. While the entrenched incumbents continue to try and delay this data, the FCC has launched an investigation into egregious terms and conditions that lock up customers and lock out competition.
So let’s be sure we keep the door open for more broadband competition. After all, it’s giving business customers and their patrons a deal year round.