On today's a-gender: Axing net neutrality will harm America's women, say women senators

Dems demand U-turn on FCC decision to kill rules

Almost all female Democrats in the US Senate have come out against the push by FCC chairman Ajit Pai to tear up America's net neutrality regulations, arguing the rules are important for women nationwide.

In a letter [PDF] sent to the federal comms regulator, 14 of the 16 female Democratic senators take issue with Pai's decision to reopen the Open Internet Order and rescind ISPs' status as common carriers.

"We are extremely concerned by your recently announced proposal to roll back critical consumer protections," the letter begins, arguing that "net neutrality is particularly important to women, as it affords women-owned businesses and startups an even playing field when competing with more established brands and content."

That may seem like an odd angle to take – women benefitting disproportionately from net neutrality – but the letter noted that in the past decade, the number of women-owned companies has risen 45 per cent, while the total number of companies rose just nine per cent.

It also gives Etsy as an example of a company where a "free and open" internet has empowered women – 87 per cent of sellers on the online marketplace are women.

The letter gives two additional examples of where an internet protected from the profit incentives of prioritizing or limiting content benefits women in particular:

  • An outlet for women's views who are "underrepresented or marginalized in traditional media."
  • The ability to communicate and organize to "create positive change," citing the National Women's March that took place the day after President Trump's inauguration.


The fact that net neutrality has become a hot-button topic with the Republican party and that President Trump's spokesman has come out in favor of tearing up the current rules, pretty much guaranteed that the five Republican female senators were not going to sign up to the letter, but there are still two Democrats – Senator Heidi Heitkamp and Senator Claire McCaskill – who did not add their names.

Heitkamp, from North Dakota, has in the past argued for net neutrality, saying when the rules were originally approved that they would "help to level the playing field" and noting that "all businesses deserve the same opportunity to compete on the Internet – and no single company should be able to dictate which companies or businesses get special treatment."

Her office would not say why she decided not to sign the letter, but it may have something to do with the fact that the letter is more a complaint than a call for action, and that it has a partisan edge.

North Dakota is a deeply red state and Heitkamp won her seat in 2012 by the narrowest of margins (50.5 per cent), so she can't afford to take partisan positions unless it is important.

Senator McCaskill is in a slightly safer position in her home state of Missouri – having won 54.8 per cent of the vote in 2012 – but she is also notable for her tepid support of net neutrality rules. She has persistently voted along party lines on internet issues, but whenever asked about her position has couched that support by arguing that it's important not to have a negative impact.

Of the original net neutrality rules, she noted it was important that the FCC was "not jeopardizing the amazing growth of online commerce." When asked about privacy regulations, she tweeted that she supported them, "but want to be careful that gov regs don't cause folks to get stuck with higher costs, less access to amazing stuff."

The other 14 Democratic senators are more forthright on their views, concluding the letter to Pai with: "As champions of women and girls, the families they support, and their economic opportunities, we will continue to fight for Internet freedom and online fairness. Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter." ®

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