STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — Have our elected leaders already forgotten that we are emerging from a public health and economic crisis that crippled millions of small businesses? Don’t they remember that fear, uncertainty, and health commissioners forced restaurants like ours and countless other small businesses to close or significantly scale back their business? Could they have possibly missed that the most successful small businesses during the pandemic were the digitally advanced ones that transitioned smoothly to e-commerce?
I have to think that Congress has completely forgotten. Just as Ohio is returning to “normal,” the House Judiciary Committee voted for new laws that rewrite the rules of the digital economy and undermine all the progress that small businesses made during the pandemic. Once again, Congress demonstrates that they do not care how their political crusade against Big Tech impacts small businesses.
When the pandemic hit, our family was terrified for our health and business. Even after vaccines started and shutdowns ended, we knew it would be difficult because so many people were still afraid to congregate indoors. Thankfully, we invested in digital tools and services long before the pandemic. Facebook, Google, and several digital services had already helped us become stronger and more successful. During the pandemic, they helped us stay in touch with our customers, offer delivery and takeout, and promote our outdoor patio.
We use Google Ads and optimize keywords to make it easy for people to find us in search results. We post pictures and videos of my grandmother and aunts on Facebook and Instagram, showing customers that our pasta and sauces are made fresh right here in our restaurant. Email and cloud storage cost very little, but they are essential to running our business and communicating with employees, suppliers, and customers. These tools are relatively inexpensive, and they help our neighborhood restaurant compete with franchises and chains with million-dollar technology and advertising budgets.
However, just as the pandemic is ending, Congress is pulling the rug out from under us by continuing the witch hunt against Big Tech. They want to rewrite the laws to make it easier to break up technology companies, making it harder for me. Small businesses prefer having only a few digital services instead of several and having each service provide several functions. I want fewer passwords to remember, fewer services to learn, and better integration of email, documents, cloud storage or advertising, coupons, and payments. Bigger digital services can afford to charge lower fees to smaller businesses, and they collect more data, which makes my advertising more effective.
There are so many industries controlled by just a few big companies that impact me personally. For example, health insurers, airlines, and gas stations charge much higher prices and offer way fewer options than digital services. So why isn’t Congress breaking up the oil companies or the airline industry instead of attacking the digital economy that helped small businesses survive the pandemic?
Digital platforms like Facebook and Google are not perfect. But for our restaurant, the good far outweighs the bad. Our elected officials, whose campaigns are just like small businesses trying to reach large audiences, know that digital platforms and tools are inexpensive, easy to use, and effective. Congress must know that regulating the digital economy will have consequences far beyond Big Tech. They need to ensure that small businesses that rely on digital platforms are not collateral damage in their war on these companies.
Frankie DiCarlantonio is the director of Scaffidi Restaurant Group in Steubenville and a member of the Connected Commerce Council. Connected Commerce Council describes itself as a nonprofit membership organization that supports and advocates on behalf of digitally empowered small businesses, with partner support from Facebook, Google, Amazon and others.
Have something to say about this topic?
* Send a letter to the editor, which will be considered for print publication.
* Email general questions about our editorial board or comments or corrections on this opinion column to Elizabeth Sullivan, director of opinion, at [email protected].