At AnitaB.org, we work on behalf of a global network of women technologists and the companies that support them. Women from more than 90 countries participate in our programs, including the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), the Systers community, and local AnitaB.org Chapters. On behalf of this community of women, we strongly object to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to replace current net neutrality rules.
On December 14, the FCC will vote to adopt regulations collectively known as the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (RIFO). This ruling will repeal net neutrality, and open the door for internet service providers (ISPs) to block or limit access to sites or apps as they wish. ISPs will also be free to charge companies and consumers for access to the so-called “fast lane,” and to offer preferential speeds to services that they own. The ruling will also permit pay-to-play pricing — where ISPs charge consumers a premium for access to specific services like streaming video or voice-over-internet — as well as pricey, a-la-carte menus similar to the typical labyrinth of cable TV.
Eliminating net neutrality damages our community in many ways, some more obvious than others. In a post-RIFO world, poor families will lack equal access to resources to information, resources, and tools online. People in lower-income households will have a harder time consuming — and, perhaps even more importantly, creating — unbiased sources of information and important community-building resources.
But tech startups and other small companies will also suffer under RIFO, because the current rules shield small companies from the unfair competition of their better-funded corporate competitors. Limiting equal access to the internet could mean that an as-yet-invented service, product, or critical piece of research is grounded before it even takes off. Earlier this year, when the FCC first drafted RIFO, 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.” Y Combinator President Sam Altman took it a step further: “If Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai undermines net neutrality, entrepreneurs and consumers will be constrained by what big cable companies want.”
At AnitaB.org, our work centers on improving the lives of all women, not just those who work at large corporations or have the means to access high-priced Internet services at home. We will continue to speak out against government actions that threaten equal access to technology, education, and opportunity. We renew our calls for principled members of the U.S. government to refrain from erecting more barriers that threaten opportunities for all women and members of underrepresented minorities.