Editor’s note: As the debate intensifies over “net neutrality” and regulation of the Internet, advocates on both sides of the argument have plenty of say. Peter Michaels, CEO of Durham startup ShiftZen, wants a “neutral net” for his firm and for other entrepreneurs. He spelled out his thinking in a recent post at ExitEvent. Michaels is an entrepreneur and owner of three local web businesses, including ShiftZen, maker of business scheduling software. 

DURHAM, N.C. – As 2015 ramps up, I can’t help but think net neutrality could be the lasting issue of 2014 in tech. 

It’s great seeing the topic discussed by the general public, but as we see the debate actually entering into the political sphere in 2015 and beyond, it’s important that people—especially in an area with an economy as tech-driven as the Triangle—know how important a free and open web is to the tech industry and small businesses. Frankly, as an entrepreneur, I’m terrified of losing net neutrality, and you should be too. This affects us all, and it’s bigger than simply how fast your Netflix queue loads. 

Recent WTW coverage of “net neutrality:”

  • Internet regulation faces uncertain future in Congress
  • Net neutrality: A Q&A
  • ‘Gigabit City’ Wilson applauds calls for more access
  • Many tech giants say “no” to net neutrality
  • Get your fiber in the ground, exec tells providers
  • Frontier CEO blasts net neutrality advocates

One of the fundamental founding principles of the Internet was providing open and accessible information (think a bulletin board). This soon grew to interactive information exchange (email and messaging), and now has matured to allowing services and data storage (Amazon Web Services, Google Docs). You know the rest—our entire lives are online now: business, social, education, everything. 

What you may not have known is the threat to the speed with which you access all of these services, and how that can affect your job too. While our friends who help deliver the Google, Netflix and Facebooks of the world via your internet connection (TWC, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon etc) insist they would never unfairly manipulate the speeds of competitors or slow down and charge services that use significant bandwidth, their track record has proven otherwise. 
As important as your Netflix cravings are (I have a daughter, I know), this has the potential to impact our community and local economy tremendously. I own a company called ShiftZen in Durham, which makes software for companies to schedule employees online. We’re growing at a relatively slow rate—our product only costs about $1 a day for most customers, and we’re (purposefully) only gaining a few customers a week. This is what we want at this point. We have fair-priced hosting, keep our advertising to a minimum and work diligently on communicating closely with our customers to fine tune the product. We are bootstrapped and lean, but still provide full time jobs for three people in the Triangle and a fantastic technologist in Costa Rica. We also utilize a number of local contractors, fellow small business owners and moonlighters. Search engines are slowly but surely giving us ranking increases as more people ‘talk’ about us and we are on a great track. I have no fear about our success. 
My point is, I feel great about what we can control. And since the internet has remained relatively free and open to all services and providers like myself, then it’s simply up to the user like yourself to pick which of the competition you like the most. In other words, it’s a fair game. 

But not if the net isn’t neutral.

For the rest of his post, visit: http://exitevent.com/article/why-startups-desperately-need-net-neutrality-150105

Note: ExitEvent is a news partner of WRAL TechWire.