Here’s Why LGBT People Should Be Talking About Net Neutrality

It’s possible that you’ve seen the words “net neutrality” around before and not been totally sure what they’ve referred to; it’s possible that’s happened more and more often recently. Net neutrality is the idea that all internet content should be treated equally, and that ISPs and governments shouldn’t be charging different users, companies or content differently or otherwise discriminating against users, companies or individual websites. Net neutrality suffered a huge blow on January 14th of this year when a US federal appeals court gutted all the rules that keep ISPs (mostly large corporations) from doing things like blocking lawful websites or applications. They could do that if, you know, something on that website competes with their services. Or if they just feel like it—like if they don’t like what the website or application is saying, even if it’s completely within the website or application administrator’s rights to do so. Or they can slow down an independent website’s speed while favoring a well-paying corporation’s website.

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.

The amount of net neutrality and freedom that we’re talking about right now is a pipe dream for some — I have never had the personal experience of sitting in an internet café and being looked down upon by a poster of a dictator, but I’m familiar with at least one person who has experienced that. I know that there are some countries out there who are just a little bit closer to 1984 than I am, sitting at my desk with my computer.

The argument that American companies won’t ever do that is a tempting kneejerk reaction because it’s basically a business suicide move here in the States.  A corporation telling adults what lawful content they can and can’t view in their own homes? A corporation conditioning us to look at the shiny, high-paying website instead of the scrappy independent one? Wouldn’t people be up in arms about that? But it really doesn’t sound so far off base, especially if no one really knows it’s happening. Our creative content is already modulated for us when companies like Wal-Mart refuse to sell it if they disagree with its language and content; corporate lobbies affect even our nation’s nutritional standards. If we don’t talk about it now, ish like this can fuck up our internet.

Would we buy internet that looks like a cable package? I don't even buy cable that looks like a cable package. And where would our logo fall? via Leadership For Geeks

Would we buy internet that looks like a cable package? I don’t even buy cable that looks like a cable package. via Leadership For Geeks

It’s now over a month after the initial net neutrality ruling in January, and Sean Howard, the CEO of Hornet (a gay social network), and Peter Ian Cummings, who published XY magazine from 1996-2007, have written this gem of a piece (not being sarcastic, really is a gem of a piece) on The Humanist. They’ve pointed out exactly what happens to queer-focused businesses like ours when net neutrality suffers:

…history shows that given such power, some corporations and governments will inevitably use it to censor content they dislike.

In our experience in many countries across several decades, gay and “immoral” content is often the first to fall. There are many examples: Facebook treats gay content unequally right now, South Korean ISPs routinely ban gay content, and even the UK’s British Telecom blocked gay social networks in the early 1990s, putting several of them out of business.

They’ve also highlighted a bit of a perfect storm—the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement that would affect eleven Pacific countries. It would legislate ISPs to a degree that it would legally mandate the infrastructure to “deep monitor.” This means that ISPs would be responsible for reporting copyright infringement, so they’d be monitoring everything. That means this trade agreement, something the current administration is attempting to fast-track with little public discourse (something that’s happening in Australia too, looks like), would legally mandate that the ISPs have a proverbial gun with which to fire the bullet the appeals court gave them last month. With the monitoring infrastructure, they really could block websites with which they disagree. They could make websites pay to be carried. They could kill net neutrality.

So at this point, what are we going to do? Well, the FCC may be able to stop the madness by reclassifying the internet. The ACLU puts it the best:

The FCC can still protect the Internet. The agency was not blocked outright by the January court decision from enforcing network neutrality principles. It was blocked from doing so because it had classified broadband carriers as “information services” as defined in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. However, that classification never made sense; broadband carriers always fit much better under the law’s definition of “telecommunications services.” To remedy this, all the FCC has to do is reclassify Internet carriage as a “telecommunications service,” which would automatically subject online communications to common carrier protections.

You can sign this petition addressing the FCC and asking them to do that. This petition, by the way, includes one of the scariest predictions of our potential future dystopian hellscape by far:

Dear Customer,

Sorry your requested website is loading slowly—Sony Music Entertainment has purchased today’s hi-speed Comcast bandwidth and it seems you are not within their target demographic. To remedy this, please select a Miley Cyrus video to watch or try loading your New York Times article again tomorrow.

That is just not a world I want to live in.

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A.E. Osworth

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 542 articles for us.


    • Ugh is right. I just feel so ugh lately about so many things and this is one of them. I am convinced that we, at any given moment, are like two-to-four steps away from living in a dystopian hellscape. Ugh.

  1. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, for not only explaining the impacts of seemingly unimportant and convoluted legislature- but what we can (kinda) do about it.

    PS I’d wait for AutoStrad to load all day :) Or I’d go make a sandwich…

  2. I’m pretty nervous about the fact that most cable and broadband companies own most mainstream media properties that exist. the favoring of giant corporate media companies owned by the cable companies is much scarier to me than bustle or queer-related censorship. those corporate-owned sites have enough search engine and operational advantages as is! Six media companies own 90% of the content we consume, including a lot of the LGBT content.

    • This x 84,000 and I don’t think it’s changed much (except to get worse) since I first became aware of it way back in 2001 or something. Combined with the frailty of net neutrality and it all just makes me want to crawl inside of a P.O. box and die.

  3. Ok it’s only February and what the hell is happening to the world?? What is 2014 doing to us…-.-

    Thanks for a great explanation, I don’t think I’d wanna live in a world like that either!! Pay an extra $5 just so I can use ebay and amazon? Isn’t it scary…our online communities will be threatened..

  4. This is why I stopped going on Buzzfeed when the Koch brothers bought them. I don’t want to give them more pageviews than the sources they’re getting their content from.

  5. actually probably all of this is a ploy by time warner to find a cheap profitable way to ensure that they can finally get the huffington post (which they own, obvs!) to load faster

  6. How does this impact non-US readers? Are we unaffected, or are the sites still compromised because the servers are in the States? (I have no idea how the internet works)

    • Living outside of The States probably won’t help, as most connections will have to pass through wire (or fiber) owned by a provider in the US.

      It is also unlikely to help because of the amount of political influence that the US has, especially regarding the internet.

  7. Obviously it’s a bad ruling, but I think that the dystopian future in which we’re all forced to watch Miley Cyrus videos is pretty far fetched.

    I see three possible outcomes:

    1) Things keep going pretty much the way they are, because there’s a hell of a market for people who WANT to have unrestricted access to whatever (legal) sites they want.

    2) Anarchist computer geniuses come up with a hack to by-pass the bandwidth allocations, and either sell it and make a fortune or distribute it for free on principal.

    3) The Internet becomes “obsolete.” It ceases to be useful, so we either develop a new communication medium, or go back to the way things were 30 years ago. People are resourceful.

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