Home / Blog / Article


January 7 2015

What's at Stake for Women in the Net Neutrality Debate

Carrie L. Lukas

I've written before about how women benefit from new technologies. In fact, while women may be less likely than men to wait over night for the latest version of a new gadget, in many ways, women's lives are being more profoundly changed by new technologies, which have created new paradigms for integrating work and family life, as well as for accessing education, participating in politics, and keeping in touch with friends and family.

But women may still be tempted to tune out the current debate over the somewhat confusing concept of “Net Neutrality.” It can be hard at first glance to see what any individual has at stake, but the truth is that women could be profoundly affected by the debate's outcome.

The Wall Street Journal provides a nice summary on the current state of the tug-of-war over regulating how the internet operates:

The FCC spent most of 2014 drafting the new rules for how broadband Internet providers manage their networks, and it plans to vote on a final rule in February. Shortly after the midterm elections, President Barack Obama called on the FCC to impose the strongest possible rules on providers by classifying broadband as a utility, which would make it subject to much greater regulation. The rules are designed to protect net neutrality—the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

At first, the idea of treating all internet traffic equally may sound like a good, egalitarian idea. But most consumers recognize that we really don't want all content treated equally. Just as we chose what books to read, websites to visit, and videos to watch, consumers may prefer to have a system that can prioritize content. As the Heritage Foundation explains:

The fact is that the Internet does not transmit generic, all-purpose bits of equal value that can all be treated the same way.

It is not just a matter of separating out a few classes of content, such as video or voice telephony, that would be permitted special treatment. Even within these general categories, there are differences: What type of video is it? Is it urgent? Does it involve a medical issue or is it a cat video? Did the recipient request that particular content? How much does the end user value quick downloads? How important is that speed to the content originator?

Accommodating the variations is not a simple matter. Regulators working to sort out the distinctions would be overwhelmed and constantly lag behind the rapid innovations that are commonplace on the Internet. These innovative approaches will face added uncertainty because entrepreneurs cannot predict how regulators would choose to treat various new services.

A far better approach would be to allow content providers, ISPs, and consumers—working through markets—to sort out the varying preferences of users and various service providers. Regrettably, these market interactions are exactly what net neutrality rules would ban.

In other words, if the internet becomes the legal equivalent of a public utility, the government would limit the ability of providers to customize our internet experience, and leave it in the hands of regulators to decide how data ought to be treated. That's a roadblock on the way to new innovation that could improve our lives more.

The net neutrality debate could also impact our pocketbooks. As ATR's Grover Norquist writes:

The Federal Communications Commission is in the middle of a high-stakes decision that could raise taxes for close to 90 percent of Americans. The commission is considering whether to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and, in doing so, Washington would trigger new taxes and fees at the state and local level.

The agency would like to make Internet service a public utility, placing broadband under Title II regulation of the Communications Act of 1934. This move would make broadband subject to New Deal-era regulation, and have significant consequences for U.S. taxpayers.

Under this decision to reclassify broadband, Americans would face a host of new state and local taxes and fees that apply to public utilities. These new levies, according to the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI), would total $15 billion annually. On average, consumers would pay an additional $67 for landline broadband, and $72 for mobile broadband each year, according to PPI’s calculations, with charges varying from state to state.

Women should take note: Greater government control over the internet could have a big impact on all of us who have come to take these technologies for granted.  

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us