The Women Who Won Net Neutrality

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
September 22, 2015

Earlier this month, Politico Magazine listed me among the top 50 “thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics” for my work in coalitions advancing net neutrality—the principle that cable and phone companies should not block websites or create online slow lanes and paid fast lanes. Over the course of a year—from January 2014 to March 2015—millions of Americans, hundreds of businesses, and dozens of policymakers weighed in at the Federal Communications Commission in favor of net neutrality. Despite the overwhelming political might of the cable and phone companies that opposed the principle, and despite a prevailing conventional wisdom all last year that it would be “impossible” to beat them, the FCC sided with the public and adopted extremely strong net neutrality rules that should be a global model for Internet freedom. On Monday, dozens of academicsnonprofits, and companies filed legal briefs in court defending that important order.

Because the victory at the FCC is so important for economic policy and was so shocking a political victory, many news organizations have profiled those responsible. Over the past months, in addition to me, many men have received credit—including Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, President Barack Obama, HBO host John Oliver, and Tumblr CEO David Karp. While these men (and others, especially in the nonprofit community) played critical roles, none deserves more credit than the frequently overlooked women who helped lead the fight. Even if we guys managed to hog the credit afterward, a disproportionate number of women in the public interest, tech, and government communities had the guts and brains to lead the public to victory. They canceled annual vacations, worked around the clock, didn’t see friends and family as often as anyone would want—and ran a brilliant campaign. They should be recognized.

Here are some of the women who worked to preserve the free and open Internet. (Many of them are current or former colleagues: I previously worked on staff at Free Press, was a fellow at New America, am on the boards of Fight for the Future and Engine Advocacy, and have done legal work for Google, Tumblr, and others.)


Barbara van Schewick, a Stanford law school professor who also has a Ph.D. in computer science and expertise in the economics of innovation, had a bigger impact than anyone realizes. She wrote the book on net neutrality and some of the most important articles on the topic. While teaching a full load at Stanford, she flew to Washington almost monthly and had more than 150 meetings at Congress, the FCC, and the White House. No one individual met more often with the White House or FCC on the issue, according to public records. The FCC’s decision (and footnotes) reflect her work. She had a bigger impact than entire institutions. She is not a normal human, but thankfully she’s on the public’s side.

Another top academic, Susan Crawford at Harvard, has led a public debate for more competition and investment among Internet providers, more government- and community-owned Internet networks, and has called for an open Internet to preserve the First Amendment interests of all Internet users. (The good news is that Susan joined scholar Tim Wu and me on the Politico list.)  


Alongside Chairman Tom Wheeler, FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel andMignon Clyburn cast two of the three votes for network neutrality. At the start of the public process, last May, each clearly signaled her willingness to support strong net neutrality rules. Clyburn publicly championed strong mobile rules, and Rosenworcel argued for a full and open public process. Further, Wheeler’s team included the brilliant Gigi Sohn, who made sure he met with business and civic leaders outside of D.C., and Stephanie Weiner, a top FCC lawyer who drilled in on every aspect of the legal analysis to make sure the order has its best shot of being upheld in court.

Read the full piece at Slate