The internet is supposed to be the one place where the playing field remains equal, but without Net Neutrality rules, the Trump administration will have cyberspace as screwed up as the border zone between Texas and Mexico.
Thanks to digital democracy, voices that might never have received mainstream media attention are rising in prominence, and sites like theGrio, solely dedicated to telling stories that inform and empower Black audiences, might have been overlooked entirely in news coverage.
Think of Net Neutrality like a scale that keeps the internet free, democratic, open and balanced. It allows anyone to share and access information of their choosing without being intentionally blocked or discriminated against by your internet service provider namely, AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. It’s why you can visit your favorite streaming service and blogs without having to pay more money for access to one over the other.
It’s basically digital equality.
On December 14, 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, hired by Donald Trump, made it a priority to attack this equality by reversing the Net Neutrality protections put in place in 2015 by then President Barack Obama, a move that curiously benefits these same large telecom corporations.
That’s why activists are now calling on 2020 Democratic candidates to bring back Net Neutrality rules, and support state legislative efforts on the ground, with the Save The Internet Act. The House has already passed this legislation and so now, it’s time for the Senate to do their part.
Black leaders and Net Neutrality
When it comes to upholding civil rights, whether on the streets, in our prison system, or on the job, Black leaders are typically at the front of the battle lines. Except, one can’t help but ask where is the African-American presence in this particular fight for justice?
While some racial justice organizations like Color of Change have been on the forefront of leading the charge, it turns out legacy groups like the National Urban League have arguably been on the opposite side of the fight.
Back in 2014, when President Obama first started to advocate for Net Neutrality to be protected as a public utility, National Urban League President, Marc H. Morial, actually called it an “extreme approach.”
“The digital divide is still too large in this country – but we will not close it by adopting obsolete utility rules that have never previously equalized service or economic opportunity for communities of color. Instead, we need the Internet to keep growing, getting faster and reaching more Americans,” Morial wrote in a 2014 op-ed for The Hill.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Urban League received nearly $2 million dollars from Comcast between 2012 and 2013.
And David L. Cohen, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Comcast, has sat on the national board of the Urban League since 2008.
In 2010, Comcast signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the FCC and major civil rights groups such at the National Urban League, NAN (National Action Network) and the NAACP to expand diversity initiatives. It’s a move than can be interpreted as the reason why these civil rights groups decided to fall back on supporting Obama’s 2015 position.
A 2014 Huffington Post article called “Why Is The NAACP Siding With Verizon Over Net Neutrality?“ explored the blatant conflict of interest and pointed out that “more than 40 civil rights groups are supporting broadband providers that oppose strict net neutrality rules. The civil rights groups say they’re siding with the Internet giants because it’s in the best interest of minority communities.”
“The internet is fundamental to economic opportunity, social action, and innovation in the modern age… Throughout our 108 year history, the NAACP has fought against discrimination and for justice and equal opportunity for all. We see the fight for net neutrality as an extension of that mission,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a 2017 statement.
Whether or not other racial justice groups will step up to call for restoring Net Neutrality remains to be seen, but with so much on the line, the Black community cannot afford for its leaders to be silent — on or offline.
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