Net Neutrality Is Key for Women’s Media

If you haven’t already heard of net neutrality, you must get up to speed. What ultimately happens with the fight for free speech on the Internet will have a direct impact on female representation in our media–and in our culture.

While women are 51 percent of the U.S. population, we own less than 6 percent of commercial TV and radio stations. It shows in the belittling way women are portrayed in advertising and the lack of female experts on news shows. But thanks to the equalizing force of the Internet, women have been able to shake off the strictures of mainstream media like a tight corset, and present media that more accurately reflects our perspectives and our place in society. Think of the innumerable blogs and sites where girls and women don’t have to ask male gatekeepers permission to share our opinions, comedy, art, music, stories, business ventures.

This is all thanks to the principle of net neutrality, which prevents Internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon from blocking, discriminating against or prioritizing online content that flows over the Internet and to your computer or smartphone. Prioritizing online content could relegate some Web sites to a “slow lane” on the Internet and others to a “fast lane.”

Without strong net neutrality protections, Web content created by and for women could be blocked or controlled by Internet service providers who want to push their own online services–and more importantly, their own representations of gender, sexuality and culture. Think that can’t happen? It already has. In 2007, Verizon blocked pro-choice text messages from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

If corporations get their way, your Internet service provider could block access to a site completely or slow it down to the point that it’s unusable. Meanwhile, commercial sites trying to sell you the usual fad diet or expensive jar of makeup might load more quickly if they paid for priority treatment with major Internet service providers.

The battle over preserving net neutrality has been raging for years. And the big companies appear to be winning. In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed weak, loophole-filled rules, offering some limited net neutrality protections for wireline Internet, but far fewer for wireless Internet that you access through smartphones and other mobile devices.

Under these wireless rules, Verizon, for example, would be free to block a streaming application developed by a female-owned radio station or a radio-streaming application that featured content produced by and targeted at women.

Congress is now considering a move to overturn the rules and strip the FCC of its authority. A House committee has already voted to nullify the FCC’s rules, and the full House may vote on the resolution this week. Net neutrality is the free-speech issue of our time, and if we lose the Internet, we may never have another platform like it. Let your congressional representatives know what you think.

Excerpted from Women’s Enews. Read the full article at womensenews.org.

Megan Tady will be moderating a panel about women and media policy at the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston April 8-10.

Image from Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com under Creative Commons 3.0

Comments

  1. Tera Byte says:

    I'm very, VERY tired of social justice advocates jumping on the neutrality bandwagon without even understanding what neutrality is really about. It's not a free-speech issue, it's about network management. Paid prioritization is nothing new, and will become increasingly important for video streaming, skype, and online gaming.

    If you want to get angry at teh big evil corporations for implementing data caps, fine, go blog at a consumers blog. Don't try to co-opt what amounts to a TECHNOLOGICAL issue into a fight against the patriarchy.

    (Fwiw, I'm also a woman who rails against the patriarchy on a daily basis. I also believe, as a writer, that it's important to understand a subject before issuing a call-to-arms in the name of equality).

    • Digitante says:

      Sorry, but she's absolutely right — net neutrality might be sold on the idea that it's necessary to manage bandwidth, but this is ultimately a deception. It's really an attempt to collect additional rents from content providers and will result in a more top-down controlled net. This is bad for many causes.

      But it's also true that with a small number of gatekeepers determining who gets priority service and who doesn't, that a non-neutral net can be abused for political reasons — exactly as the author suggests.

  2. Agreed. It's a tech issue, but has big impact on groups less able to pay for fast path access.

  3. Thanks Ms., I appreciate your coverage of this. Contrary to the glaringly ignorant opinion that Net Neutrality isn’t a free speech issue, it is THE free speech issue of our times. Those that control the means and parity of our communication CONTROL our communication. Those that controls our communication control our THOUGHTS by shifting, intentionally or not, hugely or not, the information we get. The OPEN internet is the single-most intellectually democratizing force the world has ever seen and I applaud you for defending it.

  4. Brett Glass says:

    No, “network neutrality” is not a free speech issue. “Network neutrality” is a buzzphrase with no agreed-upon meaning. It was invented by corporate lobbyists working for Google, who wanted the Internet to be regulated by the government in ways that preserved Google’s multiple Internet monopolies. They have also ginned up bogeymen, claiming that the Internet will be censored if the regulations the lobbyists want are not enacted. But lo and behold: the Internet has survived and grown for 26 years without such censorship, and this is showing no signs of changing. The truth is that if the US government begins to regulate the Internet, censorship will follow. It has in every country that has regulated the Net, including China and India. (Google actually participates in government censorship of the Net in India, in fact.)

    Google would benefit from the regulations, but consumers and especially women would not. The regulations would raise the cost of Internet service, slow its speed, reduce investment in Internet infrastructure (thereby destroying jobs), and deter innovation. The only parties that would benefit are Google and a few other corporations. What’s more, the FCC’s Internet regulations are illegal. 47 USC 230(b) clearly states the will of Congress: that the Internet NOT be regulated.

    “Network neutrality” regulation is not something that any feminist group should support. It’s a corporate agenda that would hurt women and the public.

  5. concerned says:

    tera byte's comment is correct. net neutrality is the exact oppisite of free speech. how do you expect anyone to take you seriously on other issues you are correct about when you create a completely false narative on this one, the only reason being political alignment.
    btw, i was very disappointed in 2008 when organizations supposedly concerned with womens issues gave a pass to the media when they ravaged clinton in ways that they never would have done to men. it was deemed acceptable due to support for pres obama. now it has become the norm to blast political women, especially if their ideology differs. apparantly, womens orgs arent concerned with other womens rights to think freely, unless they "freely" think the same way we do. unfortunately and ironically, that appalling thought process didnt even save hillary, whos only fault was…she wasnt obama. if you want to be political hacks, fine, but posing as people concerned with women, all women, is laughable.
    feminism is dead, and feminists are the murderers…

    • Josy Erne says:

      Concerned, I'd suggest you read on. Big media businesses are positioning this is as a threat to free speech, but that's just so much Orwellian doublespeak. Getting rid of net neutrality allows Internet providers, who are more and more vertically integrated with content producers and distributors, to control YOUR access to information on the net in order to reap more money from YOU. Do a little research on this; you'll be surprised at just who is trying to limit speech.

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