Joe Mirabella

Why Equality Depends on Net Neutrality

Filed By Joe Mirabella | June 23, 2011 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Geeks, Media
Tags: AT&T, Comcast, FCC filings, Net Neutrality

SavetheInternet.jpgSeattle hosted the FCC for two citizen community meetings about net neutrality in 2010. I was able to attend the first informal meeting where the community spoke directly to the FCC about net neutrality and why it was important to them. It was considered a "listening" meeting.

I spoke about how important an open Internet was to LGBT people. I told them how devastating it would be to our community if Comcast required a premium fee to access LGBT websites, or if AT&T chose to filter out all LGBT content. I made the connection between community organizing and an open Internet by telling them about my experience as the Social Media Director for the Approve Referendum 71 campaign.

The FCC listened as I told them that we were able to attract more than 40,000 people in less than six weeks to our Facebook page because the Internet is not censored. We were able to motivate younger, more progressive voters to participate in that campaign. I made it clear to the FCC - those voters helped us win.

More poignant than my comments was the testimony of a Chinese immigrant. She spoke about family members who were executed in China for their perceived political affiliations. She told a wide-eyed panel of FCC officials how the Chinese-censored Internet suppresses freedom. She begged, with tears in her eyes, that the FCC prevent a tiered, walled, or otherwise censored Internet in the United States. She cried, "our freedom depends on it."

That's what's at stake here. The corporations are looking for huge profits, but the people inside those corporations have lost sight of the most valuable asset - free speech.

Our country has gone to great lengths to help grassroots organizers in foreign countries stay connected. New technology will allow people to connect to the Internet, or to cell phone signals out of a suit case. These systems are censor free and are designed to promote free speech. The greatest reminder of the last year is that free speech topples dictatorships better than any bomb ever made.

The United States must maintain a neutral, open, and accessible Internet. Our democracy depends on it. LGBT equality depends on it.

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These sorts of arguments are misleading. We aren't China -- ISPs blocking content is an exaggerated concern -- the very few times it has happened have been isolated, widely publicized, and quickly dispatched by public pressure. Net neutrality in the US is primarily a (complex) economic issue.

These issues are not complex at all. Either the internet remains open like it is today, or it becomes a series of tiered silos, where ISPs can choose which content is visible to users, and which content is not.

No one should have the power to censor the internet, even if there is economic gain.

Like most apocalyptic warnings, yours misunderstands the actual substance of the issues. No, Comcast isn't going to charge more to access LGBT websites; if that ever made it through their internal review (it wouldn't), the public outcry would never permit it.

Suppose tiered pricing were implemented (highly unlikely anytime soon -- TimeWarner tried it in limited markets and the public hated it so much they reverted). Is that necessarily a bad thing? Suppose it costs $50 a month for unlimited access today, which is expensive for lower-income people (including gay people who use the internet primarily for email, web browsing, social networking). Their monthly $50 is subsidizing guys like me, who watch netflix streams, download torrents, play games, and use huge amounts of bandwidth. Isn't it better for the lower-income person if he pays $20 for 10GB a month, and I pay $80 for unlimited?

This is just an off-the-cuff example to show that the issues are complicated.

No. Lower income people need access to high speed internet just as badly as upper income people. In fact this came up at the meeting frequently. Lower income people live in a neighborhood that does not have a dependable high speed provider in Seattle. It is more difficult for them to find work, participate in the democratic process, and view independent media to name a few.

I believe everyone in the United States should have unlimited high speed internet access provided free of charge.

Well, given that universal free unlimited broadband isn't coming anytime soon, I think a lot of people (e.g., my grandmother) would love to pay less for 10GB a month.

There are plenty of other issues: Netflix constitutes about 30% of all internet traffic in the U.S. Should TimeWarner be able to charge them for this? Would we disincentivize the R&D of new, faster networks if the companies weren't able to charge sites like YouTube or World of Warcraft a premium for access to them?

Anyways, these are examples of the substantive issues; ISPs aren't going to start blocking or charging more to access gay websites.

ISPs could censor content if they wanted to under their proposed net neutrality laws. That in itself is problematic.

The interent is moving in a direction where unlimited access is going to be very important, even for your grandmother.

Remote doctors will provide health care over the internet for example. Portioning out the internet is a ridiculous mistake. The only beneficiary are the ISPs and their shareholders.

Municipal publicly owned ISPs are not a fantasy. They can be a reality in any community that mobilizes. They are already a reality in communities throughout this country.

Yes, Joe -- I have already heard of towns that have created free Wi-Fi bubbles in their downtown areas in order to encourage people to come and hang out there. They do so at municipal expense (in consortium with major businesses that stand to gain from the increased foot traffic) and such plans alone have put some municipal govts into the ISP business -- even though usually it is outsourced to a suitable communications company.

Scott Burkey Scott Burkey | June 24, 2011 8:50 AM

I'm not even going to start with the "Reader" posts, its too obvious that person is here trolling for some ISP with propaganda like that.
I'm a network administrator for an international financial services company, so net neutrality and unrestricted access are subjects near and dear to my heart. My job also makes me hypersensitive to... well let's be blunt here... B.S. from the ISP's and their lackeys in the U.S. Congress. Let's face it - until the so-called "Net Neutrality" laws are written by old school, hard core, independent IT people like myself they will always be bent in favor of the corporations controlling the internet. They should rightly be called the "Net Neutered" laws.
If the ISP's want to whine about Net Flix and YouTube then we should respond with a very simple fact. Every innovation in the Internet - starting with the advent of HTML through Twitter and streaming HD media was hyped by the ISPs as some miraculous advance that would bring us Universal Access... forgive me for a moment. Every time I see or use the words Universal Access I have a sudden bout of Teurette's, start thrashing on the floor, and begin to scream every obscenity I can think of. It's really impressive sometimes.
Considering the necessity of providing bandwidth that meets the demand of your users - even an N.A. like myself knows this - then why didn't the ISPs either move to get the bandwidth capacity they knew would be necessary, or to structure the new technologies so that they wouldn't cause such an explosive growth in the demand? The answer is simple and direct: profit. The more fuss they make, and the more obfuscation they throw into the debate that simple fact remains. This is all about profit. When the ISPs can provide my neighborhood with broadband access that doesn't collapse every time it rains - when they bill me $49.95 for "unlimited" access that actually IS unlimited, instead of choking my download speed from the 650 kbps I'm supposed to be getting down to 340 kbps whenever I download a file larger than 60 MB - when I can watch a streaming feed from CNN, MSNBC, YouTube, the online university I'm working on my Masters through, or even a porn site with equal quality and throughput speeds ... THEN, and ONLY THEN can an ISP come talk to me about bandwidth usage and universal access.
Here's a hint for "Reader" and all the other ISP trolls. Get off your butts and get busy providing Fiber-to-the-Node access. You've been promising it for over 20 years, and still haven't managed to complete the Fiber backbone that was supposed to be completed 12 years ago. The cost of fiber hasn't been a factor for at least 10 of those years, and the whine about "cost" was nothing but a red herring to begin with. Fiber's capacity nullifies any cost with the ability to carry thousands of times more data than any copper or wireless media. So shut up and get to work already!
Here's a couple of links that illustrate the benefits of fiber-optics. The second is four years old, but that just illustrates my point that the ISPs are intentionally dragging this out to get as much profit out of it as they can gouge.
Innovative fiber optic technology obliterates data speed record

NTT breaks speed record for fiber data transmission

I agree, we need net neutrality. Information is good. I have no problems with organizations and individuals using filters (I personally don't like going to and finding offensive material, or going to to buy cookies and put an extra r in and go to cherryland, but I'm not about to censor them...because at that point this site could be unavailable.

It is extremely important that bandwidth hogs (e.g. those who stream a lot of videos) pay more money for internet access than those who are just surfing the internet and checking e-mail. The bandwidth hogs increase the cost and degrade the quality of internet usage for everyone. They must pay more for access.

Unfortunately, big corps control the airwaves, especially the TV signals -- and now that video is moving to the Internet, big corps want to end up owning it, too.

Way, way back in the CompuServe days (about 1988 or so) the early adopters were scared sh**less that commercial forces would eventually take over and ruin the Internet.

We had a nice run of about 25 years ... but finally, that is what the Big Corps are out to do.

We must hold them off for as long as we can ... but if they can buy Congress, then they can eventually buy the Internet, too.

Sorry for being so cynical.

T Santora | June 27, 2011 1:28 PM

Of course we need net neutrality. That's like saying we need freedom. Jeez!

As someone in this string has already stated, “net neutrality” is not as simple as black and white, wrong or right, must have or should have. In fact, net neutrality is a catch phrase for a series of rules that will guide and restrict ISPs. The devil (or savior) will be in the details of those rules when they are adopted by the FCC, and they will change over time. No doubt.

Simplify this debate and the lawyers will wordsmith net neutrality rules to incomprehensible corporate-babble. Who wins then?