Net Neutrality Is History: Open Internet Ends, What Now for Porn?

CYBERSPACE—The Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission in December voted to eliminate the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that guarantee equal access to the internet for all sources of data, and today, June 11, the repeal finally takes effect. Net neutrality is now a thing of the past. What can porn consumers—and any type of internet user—expect to see happen now?

According to most experts, the answer is probably nothing—yet.

“Don’t expect any changes right out of the gate,” Dary Merckens of Gunner Technology told the tech news site Inverse. “It would be a PR nightmare for internet service providers if they introduced sweeping changes immediately after the repeal of net neutrality.”

Those sweeping changes could include ISPs blocking or strangling traffic for some sites while opening the gates to an internet “fast lane” for others.

The telecom giants that control online access for the large majority of Americans have mostly pledged not to bring the worst fears of net neutrality opponents to reality. The three largest ISPs, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T,  have all publicly promised that they will not block or slow traffic for any site.

But their promises have generally been met with skepticism by net neutrality supporters—a category that includes 60 percent of registered voters according to a Morning Consult poll last month—who note that between April and December of last year, the Big Three ISPs shelled out a combined $26.3 million to lobby federal lawmakers. It is difficult to determine exactly how much of that money went specifically for anti-net neutrality lobbying—but repeal of the net neutrality rules has been one of the major causes advocated by the ISPs.

What does the end of net neutrality mean for porn consumers? According to stats compiled by online activist Sharlene King for an article published last year as much as 37 percent of all internet data traffic is generated by online porn—yet only about four percent of porn consumers actually pay for their porn online.

That represents a vast, untapped revenue source that ISPs are likely to find too tempting to resist. “Now there's nothing stopping a giant ISP from curtailing your access to Pornhub because you haven't purchased their ‘adult entertainment package’ or whatever—and that's a huge blow to the free-porn utopia we've been enjoying over the past couple of decades,” wrote journalist Luke Winkie in Men’s Health magazine.

Also, because ISPs are now free to slow upload speeds to a crawl for businesses and individuals not willing to pay a premium rate, uploading original, independently produced porn may now become financially impractical or impossible for small, independent adult content creators. That could mean de facto censorship of sexual content that falls outside of mainstream “vanilla” preferences, such as fetish-oriented videos and non-heteronormative sex scenes.

“The quickening of the internet has meant that many more people have access, and can reach our content, and thus stop feeling loneliness and shame,” Mike Stabile of told the Motherboard site last year. “When you slow sections of the internet, you're telling people that some ideas and sexualities and identities are second-class, and you bring that shame back. The internet becomes The Big Vanilla."

Of course, the possibility of outright censorship also looms now that ISPs are permitted to decide what sources of data get through to users and what can’t—though technically, under the new rules they must publicly announce which sites are being slowed or blocked.

With at least four states now having passed resolutions declaring porn a public health hazard, or even a health “crisis,” a scenario in which ISPs agree to block porn sites altogether as a way to curry favor with state governments now seems possible.

But even if such drastic changes to Americans’ online experience do not become evident anytime soon, internet users could see more subtle changes almost right away, according to an analysis by The Washington Post published on Monday.

“One is the offering of discounts on Internet service in exchange for letting your broadband provider mine your browsing history and other personal information, Post technology reporter Brian Fung wrote. “Another might be getting unlimited wireless access to a mobile app that your Internet provider owns, while usage of other apps continues to count against your monthly data cap.”

Photo by Credo Action / Wikimedia Commons