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FCC's dangerous plan to revoke net neutrality

by BAR Editorial Board

Ajit Pai, the conservative chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has announced plans to institute a rule change that would repeal network neutrality. Simply put, net neutrality, as it's commonly known, means that all users have identical access to websites and internet services. That means that internet service providers, or ISPs, can't block some sites or deliberately slow down the speed of others. Pai wants to revoke the FCC rules put in place during the Obama administration; and since the commission has a Republican majority, it's a very real - and dangerous - possibility. Without net neutrality, ISPs could charge more for faster speed, say, for watching Netflix or Amazon streaming services, or bundle different parts of the internet and charge a monthly fee for each, which is already happening in Portugal. In other words, consumers likely will end up paying more for faster speed. Under current FCC rules the internet is open for all equally.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) is exploring legislation to adopt net neutrality in California if the FCC ends it nationally. While the FCC claims that it has the right to overrule state net neutrality laws, Wiener wrote in a tweet this week that "I don't agree. California needs to protect open internet access."

The end of net neutrality could be costly to LGBTs indeed, according to researcher Mary L. Gray, Ph.D. Writing on Huffington Post a few years ago, when net neutrality was an issue before the FCC developed the current regulations, Gray noted, "LGBT-identifying people will be collateral damage if internet service providers are allowed to discriminate among content, apps, or services.

"Without net neutrality protections, content providers generating critical information would likely have to pay more to get their content into (and from!) the hands of LGBT people," Gray, an associate professor at Indiana University, wrote. "That means ISPs become the de facto gatekeepers controlling what content survives and what content falls by the wayside in the wake of a market-driven content tsunami. This, in turn, will raise the cost of providing LGBT content, reducing the overall amount of LGBT content available. This will be a significant barrier to the nonprofit sources of content that have proven critical to LGBT communities, including information provided by the U.S. government."

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, was equally alarmed at the prospect of ending net neutrality. Writing in the Advocate a few months ago, when the FCC's plan was first floated, she noted the importance of the internet to LGBTs because it has enabled anyone with an idea to start a website or blog, create an online petition to call out discrimination, or gather information.

For LGBTs in rural communities, the future is even more uncertain. Rural areas have limited internet access now, and they are also farther away from institutions like libraries and LGBT community centers. The internet is critical to finding out information about coming out and our history. For trans people, it can be life saving.

Sites providing critical information on HIV/AIDS treatment and services could be affected, as well as sites offering resources for queer youth, seniors, and others. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter could be slowed for some users, unless they pay more. In short, the internet would become a world of haves and have nots for information; it should be regulated as a basic utility like telephones and electricity. This isn't progress, it's a draconian effort by the Trump administration to reward giant broadband companies over unfettered internet access for everyone.

The internet is central to freedom of expression and an essential tool of today's society. It allows anyone to state their view (and to create misleading or false claims; just like anything else, one has to verify what they read online). But the positive aspects of our internet-connected world far outweigh the negatives. And it shouldn't be up to big corporations to set fees for use.

As San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee stated last week, Pai's plan to repeal net neutrality "is the latest effort from this administration to favor the short term interests of large corporations at the expense of the greater public good."

The FCC plans to vote on Pai's net neutrality rollback December 14. The commission should reject Pai's plan, but because it will likely pass, we need state lawmakers like Wiener to take the lead on how California can set up its own regulations to keep the internet free and open for all.

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