If you’re a minority, have non-mainstream interests, or enjoy porn, you should be very interested in maintaining net neutrality.
Why? Well first let’s try to understand what the hell net neutrality is.
With net neutrality, internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon must give equal access to all content. They can’t block you from going to a site because it’s a competitor of theirs or they don’t like the content, they can’t throttle back your streaming, and they can’t create tiers of quality where those who can afford to pay more surf in the fast lane while the rest of us waste our lives on load screens.
Because of net neutrality, independent artists, activists, and start-up businesses have a shot at competing with big corporations and new ideas have a chance to be shared. As the primary means of organizing and disseminating information, the internet has been crucial to the growth of LGBT rights and movements such as #BlackLivesMatter.
And if streaming becomes cost prohibitive due to a new tiered system, you can say goodbye to most high-speed porn and camming. So net neutrality isn’t just a general public interest, see it too as a matter of social justice.
The debate over net neutrality has been percolating for the better part of a decade. In 2014, then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler released a set of rules that would have allowed ISPs to give priority treatment to companies that paid them more. This would have dealt a serious blow to anyone competing against wealthy corporations.
If it takes customers twice as long to load a page on your tiny local business website as it does when they head to Big Conglomo, it’s a real disadvantage. This could happen because you can’t afford to use the fast lane, offer a service that competes with one of their partners or simply because they object to your content. In 2014, 4 million people submitted filings against the plan on the FCC site, and then President Obama and 60 congressional representatives spoke out against it. Net neutrality was saved – at least for awhile.
Fast forward to 2017 and net neutrality is in danger again, thanks to Trump-installed FCC Chair Ajit Pai. On Dec. 14, the FCC will vote on a plan to end net neutrality. Pai says the rules are too burdensome and they discourage investing in internet infrastructure, although companies such as Google and Facebook argue the rules aren’t a hindrance. Ending net neutrality is also purported to help end illegal downloading, but almost no content providers are coming out to support Pai’s move. Finally, proponents of ending net neutrality think charging higher fees to those who use the most bandwidth is a fair expectation of supply and demand, and they argue that streaming is slowing down the overall speed of the internet.
This free market argument conveniently ignores how internet speeds have soared under net neutrality and are also consistently faster in countries outside the U.S., where ISPs have to compete for customers. In America, lobbying by cable companies has resulted in legal monopolies that leave consumers with few options for home internet service.
Comcast recently tweeted that if these oversight rules went away they wouldn’t block or throttle service – but tweets aren’t legally binding and they already have engaged in these practices. In 2008, the FCC ruled against Comcast for surreptitiously blocking BitTorrent and until an agreement was reached in 2014 with Netflix, Comcast had been allowing the streaming site’s traffic to bottle neck at peering ports. It’s not technically throttling, but it was evidence having more money solves the problem.
It’s worth noting that for years Comcast had also promised to not create a tiered system of service and is no longer offering that assurance. Given the company is routinely voted worst in the nation for customer service and was fined $2.3 million last year for charging clients for things they never authorized, they haven’t exactly earned much trust.
For marginalized populations such as the LGBT community, the internet is a critical resource. In a 2013 GLSEN survey, two-thirds of queer youth said they use the web to connect with other kids like them, with many saying they were more out online than they could be in real life. That connectedness can mean a lot for mental health and suicide prevention.
Additionally, a lack of culturally competent physicians and teachers makes it hard to find accurate health and sexuality information in person, but the internet has fostered multiple reliable, queer-friendly sources. Further, social media is one of the few ways underrepresented groups are able to fight for visibility. The most likely result of a tiered internet would be further repression of these communities.