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Custom mouse pad maker alleges her Republican congressman betrayed his promise to support net neutrality

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CustomMousePad.com owner says her Alaska congressman is going back on a promise to support net neutrality

Press Conference on Air Passenger Customer Service Improvement Photo by Alex Wong / Getty Images

The founder and owner of CustomMousePad.com, Jennie Stewart, came forward yesterday with what she believed was a promise from a Republican congressman to save net neutrality. Last month, Stewart alleges that she was assured by Rep. Don Young (R-AK) that he would sign the Democrat-led discharge petition to force a vote in the House, which would reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s December vote to revoke the rules.

Fight for the Future, a prominent net neutrality advocacy group, shared Stewart’s story in a press release on Tuesday morning. In it, Stewart says she was at an advocacy event sponsored by numerous organizations, like Public Knowledge and Access Now, at the Capitol when she met with Rep. Young. While there, Stewart told the congressman about her customized product printing business, CustomMousePad.com, and how the reversal of net neutrality could take a toll on her ability to compete with the larger companies in her market. “I shared my story where I have been able to build a business that is competitive on a national scale over the last 16 years but with my competitors being Amazon, Vistaprint, Staples and Walgreens,” Stewart said in an email to The Verge. “If the landscape changes to a sold-to-the-highest-bidder situation, it will destroy my business.”

Owner of CustomMousePad.com, Jennie Stewart, poses for a photo with Rep. Don Young (R-AK).

After the conversation, Stewart says the congressman was sympathetic to the woes of CustomMousePad.com and that the 2015 rules codifying net neutrality shouldn’t be revoked if they “didn’t leave a provision to protect small business[es] in the repeal.”

“He said that it seemed to him that we shouldn’t be in the same conversation as Amazon and that it was like we ‘were the small kid caught between the big kids fighting on the playground,’” she said in an email.

According to Stewart, her story was enough to convince the congressman to sign on to Rep. Mike Doyle’s (D-PA) discharge petition, which finally received a hint of bipartisan support last week after Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) marked the 177th signature on the petition that requires 218 before the effort can move forward. If it surpasses that bare majority threshold, it would force a vote to reverse the Pai FCC’s rollback through the use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

“He said that while he doesn’t normally sign on to discharge petitions he was going to sign on as this seemed the best course to protect small business and Alaska’s unique concerns,” Stewart said in an interview. “It was a definite affirmative, which I thanked him for agreeing to stand behind small business and how relieved and encouraged I was [to] have his support,” Stewart said.

A spokesperson for Access Now who was in the room with Stewart confirmed that Young had pledged to sign on in the meeting, although no time frame was offered as to when the action would take place. But after a month of sending follow-up emails to staff and waiting for the news to break, Stewart decided to go public with her story in the hopes of encouraging Young to finally make good on his alleged promise.

After multiple attempts to verify the June conversation, Young’s office never confirmed whether the congressman said he would sign the measure in the first place. In email correspondences obtained by The Verge, a legislative assistant thanks Stewart for “being patient with [their] timeline,” but never directly mentions the discharge petition or specifies what the “timeline” is referring to.

It’s unclear whether the promise to sign the measure was a miscommunication between the congressman, his staff, and a constituent or whether the congressman changed his mind since the meeting. But one thing is for certain, Rep. Young will not be signing the discharge petition. In a statement provided to The Verge, a spokesperson for Young said he has made the decision to steer clear of the measure. “Congressman Young has decided that signing the discharge petition is not the best option,” the spokesperson said. “Congressman Young sees discharge petitions as a parliamentary option that should only rarely be used because they bypass regular order in committee.”