A Reminder: Net Neutrality

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled Queer Your Tech With Fun to bring you an un-fun reminder: the Federal Communications Commission has an open comment period where y’all can go weigh in on the future of the open internet. That comment period ends Monday, September 15th. According to The Verge, the response has been record breaking:

If you add up the initial round of comments and ongoing responses, the FCC has now received over 1,477,301 public comments regarding Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal, according to Politico. That’s enough to beat the previous (though very murky) record of 1.4 million; all of those comments were focused on the infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show incident involving Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and a nip slip.

Tom Wheeler’s proposal, by the way, says that internet service providers would have the option of selling an internet fast lane to content companies. Once again, the work and opinions generated by corporations with deep pockets would be prioritized over those without. While it may not sound like a big deal at first, think about your behavior when something doesn’t load quick enough. If it’s anything like mine, you click away. You seek the information elsewhere. For better or worse, we’ve all become accustomed to having information at our fingertips seconds after deciding we need it. That is the reality. The 90’s may be back in the fashion world, but do we really want it to back in internet-speeds?

On September 10th, a bunch of websites participated in Internet Slow Down Day. Netflix, Etsy, Reddit, Tumblr and so many more displayed a spinning wheel and a reminder that internet fastlanes mean internet slowlanes. I’m convinced some of the participating sites (like Netflix) would actually be fine in a world where websites have to pay for speed, but the severity with which even the giants are treating this proposal should be telling us exactly how the end of net neutrality would impact smaller sites. Sites that are less mainstream. Sites like ours.

Autostraddle published a post on why net neutrality is a queer issue. Here is a little bit of that:

Let’s imagine a few scenarios here, shall we? These are all out of my own head—they’re not confirmed by any university studies or anything. They’re simply predictions backed up by a few anecdotes and that’s all they are. But they’re certainly not impossible.

Let’s look at Bustle as compared to other websites that traffic in women’s media. Bustle is owned by rich white dude Bryan Goldberg and he poured $6.5 million into its creation. In contrast, Autostraddle is basically funded by creativity, hopes and dreams (and viewers like you). If Verizon wanted to slow down our speeds (and the speeds of sites like Bitch and The Toast and allllll those others that we all love so, so dearly) and put the speed that they’re really capable of behind a wall that only Bustle can afford, they can legally do that. Many of us close websites that don’t load. I always assume it’s over-designed or poorly coded or something, but in the future that might not be the case. The Pavlovian conditioning of users to go for better/faster websites will start to happen, and attention will be steered (even moreso than it already is) to websites backed by large corporations.

It’s also always possible that the people in charge of an ISP just don’t like queers. Ever had a company you work for block a website because of “homosexual content?” I have. Now imagine that the friendly folks over at Verizon or Comcast or AT&T are doing that to you in your house. They can now legally do that also. Imagine that your personal internet gods can block every competitor, every dissenting opinion — not just the stuff that is harmful or illegal, but just the stuff that is harmful for that corporation in some way. There’s going to be an appeal, but my faith that this will just right itself isn’t strong.

Well it’s stronger now, actually. Because massive amounts of people have stepped up to say that this is, in fact, one of the dystopian futures they’re afraid of. According to TechCrunch, less than 1% of comments to the FCC oppose net neutrality (does it correlate with these figures here? Who the hell knows, I’m just spit-balling here). And the FCC will take into consideration these comments while moving forward. Could they ignore them? Maybe yes, maybe no, depending on who you ask—it’s all very nebulous. But I think it’s better to make them, to add to the growing pile of opinions that don’t want a further extension of this “corporations are people” and “money is voice” attitude that’s been going on basically forever (and has arguably gotten worse over the past two decades). So here’s how to voice your opinion to the FCC:

  1. Head on over to the FCC’s website and read up on the kinds of comments they find most helpful.
  2. Then head over to the comment section of their website. Click on proceeding # 14-28. It should say “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” next to it. It will probably be toward the top.
  3. If you’d prefer, you could try this direct link to the comment form for 14-28. I’ve found it to be a bit glitchy, though, so if you get redirected, just follow step two. The proceed to step four.
  4. If you have a brief message for the FCC, you can go ahead and use the express form that following steps 2 and/or 3 will have provided. However, if you have more to say and brevity is not your strongest suit, you can cast your eye to the left of your screen. In the box at the top left labeled ECFS Main Links you’ll find the option to Submit a Filing. That let’s you send a typed letter as an attachment. If you do this, make sure you include the proceeding # 14-28 on both the form you fill out and on your letter.

Not sure what your opinion should be? Here are a few options according to TechCrunch:

Powerful voices are weighing in as well. Recently, former Speaker of the House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued that broadband should be reclassified as a utility under Title II Communications Act. The idea is viscerally opposed by ISPs.

Also out recently is a letter signed by 33 tech companies, including Cisco, Nokia, and Broadcom opposing Title II reclassification. There is some space on net neutrality to be in favor of regulation, but opposed to regulation under Title II. For the most part, with some notable exceptions, it seems that there is increasing consensus among net neutrality advocates in favor of use of Title II as the best legal standing for net neutrality.

The Internet Association released new comments to the FCC today, arguing in favor of net neutrality, and partially extolling the potential for the use of Title II, but not precisely endorsing it as the proper approach.

And please do discuss the best approaches for maintaining the open internet in our comments below—just make sure you also leave a comment for the FCC.


 

This has been the ninety-fifth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Feature image via Shutterstock. Header by Rory Midhani.

Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And support from readers like you keeps the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers do not support. Autostraddle is fundraising right now to keep our site funded through January 2022. Will you join our community of readers in helping to keep us around?

A.E. Osworth is part-time Faculty at The New School, where they teach undergraduates the art of digital storytelling. Their novel, We Are Watching Eliza Bright, about a game developer dealing with harassment (and narrated collectively by a fictional subreddit), is forthcoming from Grand Central Publishing (April 2021) and is available for pre-order now. They have an eight-year freelancing career and you can find their work on Autostraddle (where they used to be the Geekery Editor), Guernica, Quartz, Electric Lit, Paper Darts, Mashable, and drDoctor, among others.

A.E. has written 543 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. So the following instructions from the FCC on comments are pretty intimidating: “challenge our and other commenters’ factual assumptions; applications of data and research; analytical methodologies; analysis; or factual, technical, and policy conclusions. We want you to suggest reasonable alternatives to our proposals and to the proposals of other commenters.”

    Do you have suggestions of even where to start? The issue of “money as voice” is huge, unfortunately spans beyond net neutrality, and rings true with me, but I can’t go into legal and ideology history . . .

    • I understand why the FCC might want keep the comments on-topic with stipulations and suggestions, but I think it’s pretty ironic to direct participation in this way.

      It’s almost another form of “money and privilege as voice”, since net neutrality affects many people who might not have the experience or background to adhere to their commentary instructions. I’m certainly given pause by them, and I can imagine many people being dissuaded entirely.

      I wonder if this affects the weight the FCC gives to non-expert commentary?

    • The key phrase I keep seeing as I read letters and comments others have written is that internet access should be “classified as a Title II telecommunications service under the Communications Act.” That takes care of the “reasonable alternatives to our proposals” part of their instructions. And then add your personal opinions and experience. I think its fine not to speak too much in legal terms, but talk about how this affects you personally. (hope that helps a little!)

  2. I’ve called the FCC a few times and left a message with the person I spoke too.

    Also, I didn’t see it mentioned here, but you have to remember Tom Wheeler is a former top lobbyist for the Big Cable, which is kind of suspicious when you think about. It’s like someone who was in the mafia became chief of police. Who’s side are they really on.

  3. I’m assuming they wouldn’t care to hear from non-Americans?

    I really believe this issue is about a lot more than money. Public opinion and discourse has changed so much with social media. Twitter-driven political upheavals; the current school board strike I’m witnessing in my province where for the first time ever (that I’m aware of) public opinion is firmly on the side of the teachers, I believe largely due to the fact that they have been able to make their voices heard and understood. Discourse is no longer directed by the big media outlets – and that is no doubt terrifying to those who are used to controlling the conversation.

  4. so fuckin important. as someone who works exclusively, pretty much, in “the feminist internet,” net neutrality is a huge deal to me. i was proud that i was a part of FMF’s work on internet slowdown day, and i am really proud autostraddle published this post.

    what’s at stake in this debate isn’t “speed.” it’s our voices: the voices, perspectives, opinions, and communities of women, queer folks, people of color, and other marginalized factions of the human race need the internet. it’s an organizing tool, a consciousness-raising device, and a (mostly) free resource for education, information, awareness, and activism.

    Y’ALL. imagine a world where personal blogs didn’t exist, where fledgling campaigns devised out of bedrooms ceased to be. if the internet service providers control our internet, they control our discourse – just like cable, just like radio, just like “mainstream media.” the internet isn’t just a technological advance; it’s a revolution. someone with ten bucks to their name (okay, eighteen, on wordpress), can design a website, launch it, spread the word, and expect some clicks. in this ether of wires and cables, we’ve found each other. and we are FINALLY louder than newspapers, louder than commercials. we can dispel lies, talk back to media giants, and overpower folks with millions of dollars.

    this is no small feat. this is such a huge fucking deal.

    PLEASE TELL THE FCC THAT NET NEUTRALITY IS NOT NEGOTIABLE AND THAT CORPORATE CONTROL OVER A MODERN TOOL IN OUR DEMOCRACY IS NOT OKAY. PLEASE!

    • In the EU at least, net neutrality has been codified into law. This does not preclude us from being impacted though, as US content suppliers still somehow need to get to the undersea cable first; meaning that any provider between their server and said cable might still ask for extra charges in order to transmit the data to that point. It is actually an interesting question how that part will be handled, as technically a “fast path into the home” is pretty meaningless in this context. Will there be an extra fee for “international content” by the content suppliers, or does that part remain untouched by the changes (i.e. does the law forbid this from being modified, if there is just a little leeway, then the cable providers will pounce on it, of that we can be sure)?

        • i don’t care. Since EU citizens would hardly want to pay more for what we have already, and the policy for the entire EU thankfully is not run by the US-friendly UK – it’ll be a case of lobbies secretly trying to bleed the EU taxpayer with non-advertised and not agreed upon priority fees to US providers – until people catch on to it and they get stopped, at which point said providers will treat us to priority for free as long as we don’t actively work against them milking their own population. [/nihilism] [/cynicism] [/schopenhauerian_resignation]

  5. I don’t know much about the FCC proposal, but I think I’m hearing two main issues here.

    1. Whether an ISP should be allowed to offer a service that prioritizes delivery of your packets.

    2. Whether an ISP should be able to charge different prices to different customers for the same service.

    There’s no question on (2). But (1) is less clear to me. We certainly allow the USPS and FedEx to do this, and it seems like it would be pretty bad if we were to require that all packages have the same priority. I don’t know if net neutrality encompasses both (1) and (2), but if it includes (1), that could be a reason that companies like Netflix are opposed. Streaming movies involves the delivery of an enormous number of packets, and there’s no way they could afford to send them all at a high priority. On the other hand, it seems to me that a site like AS could benefit from prioritization. Because there are only a few packets needed for sending a blog post, the additional cost for sending them at a higher priority would be negligible, and I’d think it would just become standard practice to transmit text at high priority.

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