Last week, the Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality — it plans to dismantle regulations that ensure equal access to all content and applications on the internet, regardless of the source, without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
The regulations were passed in February 2015 by the FCC, then led by chairman Tom Wheeler. Supporters of terminating net neutrality rules, including current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, argue that the concerns that Silicon Valley giants will cement their dominance over the internet economy are overblown.
But the trepidation is not unfounded. According to the Washington Times, Twitter, for example, refused to allow Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn to promote her Senate campaign launch video because it contained a pro-life message. Likewise, YouTube restricted access to videos addressing a number of issues, like a lecture from Alan Dershowitz on the history of Israel entitled “Israel’s Legal Founding” — these came from conservative commentator Dennis Prager’s Prager University. YouTube also demonetized or stopped placing advertising on almost all videos by African-American Trump supporters Diamond and Silk. And Reddit’s CEO secretly edited users’ comments in a pro-Trump subreddit.
On top of the aforementioned qualms, proponents of the 2015 regulations say that the FCC is merely paving the way for internet service companies to charge users more to view certain content and to curb access to some websites, which would create a “fast lane” and a “slow lane” for the internet. A recent survey by the University of Maryland suggests that 83 percent of Americans — including 75 percent of Republicans — support net neutrality because of these fears. They argue that net neutrality is necessary in order to protect internet openness, which largely and adversely affects working women.
“There are no toll roads on the information superhighway,” President Barack Obama said in a 2014 video on the subject. But if there are tolls (and there soon might be), working women will be tossing in a lot more coins.
Here are five obvious reasons why.
1. It’ll further marginalize women's voices and inhibit their justice movements.
Campaigns like #MeToo went viral because of the internet. Activist Tarana Burke created the #MeToo movement a decade ago to let young women of color who survived sexual assault know that they weren’t alone. Now, it’s sweeping the nation yet again as an onslaught of workplace sexual harassment claims are brought to light.
Because of the obvious magnitude of the issue — which wouldn’t have been as well understood if not for the women around the world who all tweeted #MeToo — companies as big as Facebook have publicized their sexual harassment policies in an effort to keep the conversation candidly flowing. Meanwhile, Hollywood, Silicon Valley and businesses big and small are taking action to put preventative measures in place and hold harassers accountable.
The Women’s March, which garnered support from millions of women and men around the world, also started on Facebook. It made history by attracting a crowd larger than that of this year’s presidential inauguration — and we can thank the open internet for its popularity and for that fact that countries around the world followed suit. If not for the awareness surrounding the event, and the videos shared from around the world, perhaps not as many participants would have joined.
The fact is that connectivity can take activism viral by disseminating ideas that are critical to the health of our democracy, and it can give voice to marginalized demographics, which can change and create culture. The internet, with its globalized communication platforms, is the single most powerful medium for rousing revolutions at an international level. And no broadband provider had any power to silence these conversations before.
2. It’ll hurt online businesses, which are predominantly owned and operated by women.
Kirsten Gillibrand, a U.S. Senator from New York, and Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, recently published an impactful piece on Refinery 29 aptly titled, “We Don’t Need New Gatekeepers: How Repealing Net Neutrality Hurts Women.” “For women, the rollback of net neutrality will hit especially hard,” they write. “That’s because women nationwide are using the power of the internet to organize, share stories and build businesses in droves.”
While one-third of businesses in this country are owned by women, nearly 90 percent of sellers on the online marketplace Etsy are female, they point out. Etsy has even said that it “would not exist without net neutrality,” lauding its “democratic access” that makes the internet “revolutionary.”
Gillibrand and Rosenworcel also note that the impact of the open internet on women-owned businesses is much bigger than just web-based marketplaces; it’s vital to ignite all modern economic and social opportunities. In fact, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 45 percent between 2007 and 2016, while the total number of firms grew by only nine percent.
“Online businesses have exploded because it is now possible for anyone with goods or services to market them both around the corner and around the country,” they explain. “It’s apparent that women are driving the new digital economy—and net neutrality helps put them in control.”
3. It’ll affect female entrepreneurs and complicate small business, which is mostly run by women.
Earlier this year, more than 800 startups signed an open letter that read, in part: “Our companies should be able to compete with incumbents on the quality of our products and services, not our capacity to pay tolls to internet access providers.”
The most recent U.S. Census data suggests that nearly 10 million women own businesses. But while they make up a third of small-business owners, they receive just 10 percent of venture funding. According to a 2016 report from CrunchBase, which examined the gender dynamics at top venture capital firms and how their money is distributed, only a mere seven percent of VC partners are women, and research suggests that the gender imbalance fuels a systematical bias against female entrepreneurs. Companies pitched by men are about 40 percent more likely to receive funding than those led by women, for example. While venture capitalists invested more than $58 billion in startups last year, women only got two percent of that money, according to a new study published in the Harvard Business Review.
Women need to be part of the “fast lane” to promote their ideas, crowd fund their businesses and grow them successfully, because the money to get them noticed and off the ground clearly isn’t coming from elsewhere.
4. It’ll hurt creative minds, who are typically women.
According to Engadget writer Timothy Seppala, repealing net neutrality “may stifle creativity and drive more cultural homogeneity.” FM radio, for example, “isn't a viable way to discover new music anymore because many stations have set playlists dictated by a few corporate overlords like iHeartRadio and Townsquare Media.” Seppala says the internet it is such a powerful tool for discovery because all someone needs is a cellphone and a YouTube account to get their name out there. “It's that type of freedom many critics fear will vanish with Title II,” he says.
And the internet isn’t just important for musicians. Other artists will be affected, too. For example, we know that women’s artwork sells for just half as much as men’s work. A recent analysis of auction data from 1.5 million auction transactions in 45 countries between 1970 and 2013, representing works by 62,665 artists, suggests that the perception of artists’ genders consistently influences the value of their art. Art by women typically sells for about $25,262 on average, which is just 47.6 percent of the price male artists typically sell for at auctions, which is about $48,212. Undervaluing women’s work may be because just 30 percent of gallery-represented artists are female — their collections aren’t seen, so their collections are appreciated.
The internet is a free public space for women to share their art and establish themselves. If it's restricted, the art industry's pay gap will only widen.
5. It’ll hinder job hunting for women, who hop jobs more often than men.
According to the Pew Research Center, “the state of the job market consistently ranks among American’s top policy priorities, and access to online resources has long been viewed — by policymakers and the public alike — as an essential tool to help Americans find and apply for jobs.” A majority of Americans (54 percent) have gone online to seek information about a job, and 45 percent have applied for a job online — the number of Americans who research jobs online has actually doubled in the last decade. Roughly a third of Americans have looked for a new job at some point in the last two years, both online and offline, but 79 percent of them utilized resources or information they found online as part of their most recent employment search. This would include research they’ve found on sites like Fairygodboss itself, which exposes women to information about companies and their cultures that would especially affect women.
Other recent data from LinkedIn also suggests that the rate of job hopping in the five years after college has nearly doubled over the last 20 years, and women have steadily job hopped more than men since 1986. In fact, it’s always been this way. According to a 1982 paper from Stanford University, “The Importance of Lifetime Jobs in the U.S. Economy,” a quarter of women over 30 were employed in jobs that would last longer than 20 years, while half of men over 30 were in near-lifetime jobs.
Patty McCord, former chief talent officer for Netflix, told Fast Company that job hoppers achieve more, especially if they switch jobs every three to four years when their learning curve flattens. Women, therefore, might be hopping jobs more because their learning curves flatten faster than men’s, especially as evermore male leaders (the majority of leaders) evade sponsorships with women that would lead to opportunities for growth.
Therefore, for women looking to change careers or find new jobs because they’ve hit the glass ceiling with their current companies, the open internet is critical in both researching and applying for positions.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.