With less than 2 percent of the 7 million small companies in the United States doing business online, Rep. Jim Talent (R-Missouri) is looking for ways to increase those ranks. Chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, Talent pledged at an e-commerce hearing yesterday to take a closer look at specific barriers to increasing Internet competition for small businesses
“The Internet has taken on a life of its own, and several issues must be resolved to ensure small business can take advantage of all the Internet has to offer,” Talent said. The questions of how secure online transactions are and whether such transactions will be taxable in the future loom as the biggest concerns for small businesses.
Hanson Bros. Fresh Seafood owner Brian Hanson testified at the e-commerce hearing that his business, based in Portland, Maine, will probably do 20 to 30 percent of its business online this year. While his site is becoming successful, Hanson argued most small businesses lack the technical skills needed to build an effective Web site, the capital needed to buy powerful computers and market the service and the time needed to manage the sites.
Among the increasing number of providers of soup-to-nuts e-commerce site building and operating services, a few, such as IBM’s Small Business program, offer specific services to address small business Internet issues. Whether small businesses want to or can afford to take advantage of such services remains to be seen.
Can Government Help?
Beyond launching the site, Information Technology Association of America President Harris Miller argues the federal government must aggressively move to prevent regulatory barriers from marring the path of small businesses to the Internet. In addition to quelling the rising fear of increased Internet regulation, Miller argued the government must ensure small businesses have access to high-speed Internet connections.
Both Talent and the Small Business Administration’s Daniel Hill pledged to look for ways to help bring small businesses into the Internet realm, noting “Small businesses are usually the innovators of our economy. Small business should be on the cutting edge of this technology, using the efficiencies of the Internet to maximize their business opportunities,” Talent said.
The Small Business Administration encourages small businesses not only to explore the use of e-commerce for their own businesses, Hill said at the hearing, but also to get involved in developing new e-commerce technologies. “The SBA can play an important role in helping such firms by providing technical assistance, training, and information,” he added.