The importance of the internet in empowering women and minorities cannot be overstated. High-speed internet helps women connect with each other, access invaluable educational and employment opportunities, foster the growth of minority- and women-run small businesses, share in each other’s successes, and so much more. That’s why the Filipina Women’s Network (FWN) believes in preserving a free and open internet for all—and why I believe Congress must take action to protect this ideal for generations to come.
At FWN, we strive to be the number one resource for leadership, personal, and professional development for Filipina women worldwide. Access to high-speed internet is part and parcel of our vision. Our global network includes members from around the world, many in areas that do not enjoy the same level of freedom and access to the internet. To reach and communicate with these women, we rely on social media, messaging apps, and other online platforms. Without a free and open internet—in which all internet users have access to a safe online experience—we simply would not be able to have the same impact on the Filipina community worldwide.
Protecting and ensuring internet freedom, however, has been a tricky subject for regulators and policymakers in the past. The idea of net neutrality—essentially, that no one should have their content or data unfairly blocked or slowed down—is not a controversial concept. However, the means by which policymakers have tried to ensure net neutrality in the past has been slightly more so—and for good reason.
For the better part of two decades now, the issue has continued to resurface as each administration has viewed it through a different lens and thereby addressed with differing degrees of regulation, creating confusion and never truly addressing the problem holistically. The decision in 2015, for example, to enforce heavy-handed Title II regulations on internet service was a disaster, leading to two straight years of decreased internet investment while doing little, if nothing, to truly ensure a free and open internet.
That’s because Title II regulation would only apply to one part of the internet ecosystem: internet service providers. However, the internet has changed drastically since the debate surrounding net neutrality began. Big tech companies and social media platforms have grown to mammoth proportions with virtually no constraints or oversight. Net neutrality rules that do not apply to these mega companies not only misses the bigger picture, but leaves internet consumers unprotected.
To foster a truly free and open environment in which all women and minorities feel safe and secure online, we need to ensure no single company can leverage its size and power to influence consumer behavior online. Ignoring these giant online platforms would leave many consumers exposed and vulnerable.
The fact is, times have changed since the issue of net neutrality was first introduced into public discourse. That’s why we need to take a different approach than what has been done in the past. This issue is far too important to leave to government regulation that can be rewritten with each changing administration.
Congress must codify a set of net neutrality “rules of the road” that applies to all internet companies equally and preserves a free and open internet for women and minorities to continue accessing opportunities that may otherwise be unavailable to them.