opinion

Will Net Neutrality Protect Your Right to Porn?

Stephen Yagielowicz

One of the most contentious concepts in Internet policy today is that of net neutrality — a complicated issue that is often clouded with misunderstanding and counter-intuitive thinking, with big-league players including content publishers and Internet service providers, cheering on opposite sides of the fence — and both now coming to grips with the changes (or lack of changes) that the approval of net neutrality will impart on consumers and service providers alike.

Saying that “the Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced at the end of February that “after a decade of debate and an open, robust year-long process, we finally have legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet stays fast, fair and open.”

Beyond its static image past, the online adult entertainment industry is banking heavily on virtual reality and 3D immersive porn … but net neutrality will prohibit this preferential treatment ….

The FCC reportedly received a record 4 million comments both for and against net neutrality, with the five-member commission ultimately voting three to two in favor of the proposal.

Regardless of any other factors, one thing to note is that rules have now come to the Internet, with the net neutrality mandate affirming the Federal Communications Commission’s governance of the Internet — under rules established in 1934 to deal with the growing telephone system — for better or for worse.

“Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites,” explains PublicKnowledge.org. “In other words, it is the principle that the company that connects you to the Internet does not get to control what you do on the Internet.”

A different outlook is that faster Internet services, rather than slow ones, are better for consumers — even if they cost more. For example, when high performance broadband Internet services arrived alongside dial-up connections, they typically cost several times more per month — yet many people were more than happy to pay more for the better experience. Think of it as flying first class instead of flying in coach: it’s the same plane and the same destination (the same Internet), but by paying more, the journey and the experience becomes much more pleasurable.

Net neutrality advocates don’t want you to have a choice of going first class, however.

In a recent article for Eros.com entitled “Net Neutrality Saves Pornland,” British Journalist Nichi Hodgson criticized proposals to create Internet “fast lanes” that would be commercially available — for a price.

“In particular, the proposals would affect streaming services — a mainstay of much online adult content — by putting pressure on them to opt for the fast lanes,” Hodgson wrote. “It would be creating a tiered and undemocratic Internet, where access to funds dictated download speed.”

It is a sentiment that should be viewed through the lens of today’s reality, however, because we already have “a tiered and undemocratic Internet, where access to funds dictated download speed.”

For example, most consumers have an array of home Internet access plans available to them, where the download speeds and data volumes they enjoy are directly tied to the amount that they pay each month — want faster Internet or a higher data cap? Write a bigger check...

Likewise, website owners have a similar choice to make: use an inexpensive shared virtual host or opt for a higher speed, higher cost, dedicated server solution that will provide faster downloads and a better user experience for their customers — but at a greater expense. This trend continues upstream, as ISPs also make bandwidth connectivity choices that balance cost and speed.

The same situation occurs when choosing a home cable or satellite television package, if the broadcast channels are not enough for you:

Don’t want just the basic package? You can upgrade your access to include the premium movie and sports channels as well — and if that’s not enough, ante up for Hulu, Netflix and an infinite array of pay-per-view movies on demand — for an added fee.

“The irony is that there is one key way in which compromising net neutrality could benefit the porn industry — and that’s in relation to porn piracy,” Hodgson wrote, referring to ComCast’s squelching of file-sharing sites and protocols such as BitTorrent, which have long drained profits from legitimate adult businesses. Unfortunately, net neutrality prohibits such antipiracy actions.

As for the future, there is hope. Hodgson’s article sparked a lively discussion on Reddit.com, where the overall theme seemed to be that regardless of the outcome of the battle for net neutrality, “porn will find a way.”

“Porn is the reason cave men started mixing red berries into their cave drawings,” user RedditRemedial explained. “So they could draw nipples and both sets of lips.”

Beyond its static image past, the online adult entertainment industry is banking heavily on Virtual Reality and 3D immersive porn — bandwidth intensive applications that would benefit from having a way to cut to the front of the access line — but net neutrality will prohibit this preferential treatment; providing yet another illustration of the complexity of this issue for the industry.

“We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind,” Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the Commissioners that supported the plan, stated. “We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online.”

It is a sentiment that is no doubt shared by numerous adult entertainment companies — but the story may not yet be over, as sharp criticism is mounting over the transparency of the process (the final 300+ page net neutrality proposal was not made available to the public before the commission’s vote on it), and a flurry of lawsuits looms.

“What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense,” AT&T Senior Vice President Jim Cicconi stated, “is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930’s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of 80 years ago, live under it.”

One thing is for certain as this situation unfolds: we haven’t yet heard the last word on net neutrality.

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