Why Women Should Love the “Net Neutrality” Repeal

by on June 11, 2018 · 0 comments

The Internet is a great tool for women’s empowerment, because it gives us the freedom to better our lives in ways that previously far more limited. Today, the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order helped the Internet become even freer.

There is a lot of misinformation and scare tactics about the previous administration’s so-called “net neutrality” rules. But the Obama-era Open Internet Order regulations were not neutral at all. Rather, they ham-handedly forced Internet Service Providers (ISPs) into a Depression-era regulatory classification known as a Title II common carrier. This would have slowed Internet dynamism, and with it, opportunities for women.

Today’s deregulatory move by the FCC reverses that decision, which will allow more ISPs to enter the market. More players in the market make Internet service better, faster, cheaper, and more wildly available. This is especially good for women who have especially benefited from the increased connectivity and flexibility that the Internet has provided.

The growth of the Internet has enabled women to connect with others and pursue economic opportunities like operating a small business that had higher cost and more barriers in the pre-digital age. From 2007 to 2015, the number of women-owned businesses grew by more than 65%. For minority women, the rate of business ownership has nearly tripled since 1997. This is in no small part thanks to how much faster and easier the Internet makes it to sell goods or services across the country or around the world. Now, the mom who does monogramming on the side or makes awesome salsa is no longer limited to selling locally, but can become a global entrepreneur through platforms like Etsy. While there are still many barriers to entry facing female entrepreneurs, the Internet has knocked down startup costs and broadened the market for their goods.

Faster Internet also allows more companies to offer flexible working opportunities. These are especially useful for working moms who need  more choices to balance parenting and work. A 2016 survey by Working Mother magazine found that 80% of mothers were more productive when allowed to use some type flexwork, much of which has been enabled by faster, better, and cheaper Internet. As companies invest more in 5G and expand access to broadband, the ability to connect will only get faster and easier. More does need to be done to ensure that women aren’t punished in their careers for taking advantage of flexwork opportunities. But the increase in flexwork gives everyone, but especially women, more options to pursue what is best for them and their families.

Finally, there has been a lot of fearmongering that ISPs will block access to feminist websites in a post-regulatory world. This is nonsense. For one, ISPs were already legally allowed to block content under the original regulations. In fact, some small ISPs purposefully marketed their blocking of questionable content for religious families.

As my colleague Brent Skorup has explained, the “net neutrality” that most people claim to support is not at all what the 2015 regulations accomplished. We all want an Internet that gives people access to the vast array of information available. But when someone says that most people favor “net neutrality” or that “net neutrality” protects women or marginalized groups; well, to quote The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” It’s easy to be in favor of the version of “net neutrality” that is portrayed in some surveys and media, but the reality is the Title II restrictions were far more about regulating the Internet like an old school landline than they were about promoting access or preventing throttling.

The great thing about the freedom of the Internet is that it allows people to connect and pursue new opportunities. From beauty vloggers to Etsy entrepreneurs to the mother who wants to help her children with homework, the Internet has especially opened new opportunities for women.

ISPs will still have to engage in competition under the watch of the Federal Trade Commission, but it will become more affordable and easier for smaller ISPs to enter the market. We should not act like Chicken Little and assume the sky is falling now that some two-year-old regulations are being repealed. Rather, we should be excited for the increasing opportunities that Restoring Internet Freedom Order will provide. And for those who want to empower women, the greater chance for more services is likely to provide them with an easier, better, and faster way to do so.

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