Net Neutrality and Blacks

By Kathie Easter, Staff Writer

Recently Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), revealed his controversial plan to repeal protections established during the Obama Administration that are designed to keep the Internet open and fair.

Most African-Americans have heard of ‘‘net neutrality,’’ but few have given it any attention, reasoning that it is a white concern.

So, does net neutrality affect blacks, and how?

Net neutrality refers to these regulations which are designed  ensure equal access to the Internet.

First established in 2015, current rules were developed in order to keep Internet providers, such as Comcast and AT&T from deliberately speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites and apps. The intent was to prevent Internet providers from choosing winners and losers among content providers.

Under the FCC’s new plan will do away with rules that prevent providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content and services. It would also eliminate a rule that bars providers from giving priority to their own content, or the content of third-party services with which providers have established contracts.

However, providers will be required to publicly disclose any instance in which they block, throttle or paid to prioritize content. FCC officials indicate that these instances will be evaluated based on the criteria of whether or not the activity can be deemed anti-competitive.

Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has long been a critic of net neutrality rules. Pai’s decision to seek a full repeal of net neutrality rules has been praised by telecommunications trade groups and loudly criticized by the tech industry and consumer advocacy and political activist groups, such as Color of Change, which is a progressive non-profit civil rights organization. The group was formed in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in order to use online resources to strengthen the police voice of Black Americans.

Color of Change strongly opposes the FCC’s plan to eradicate net neutrality, and states that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan will kill the open Internet, and gutting net neutrality rules will devastate black communities.

Furthermore, Color of Change argues that net neutrality is both crucial and essential to protecting a free and open Internet, which has been a critical weapon in today’s fights for civil rights and racial equality.

Color of Change bases their argument on the ability of a free Internet to allow black voices and ideas to be heard in American culture, and provides the spread of ideas of substance, rather than simply those that have financial backing.

The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Facebook, Google and Amazon, describes Pai’s plan as “the end of net neutrality as we know it.” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, also states, “This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire Internet.”

#BlackGirlsCode, #BlackMenSmile, #BlackLivesMatter, the Black Internet is a component in the 21st century’s movement for rights, freedom and dignity, and it’s being attacked.

From the very beginning of the Trump Administration, the federal government has seemed intent on silencing black voices. Current net neutrality rules have the support of the 4 million members of the public who demanded them under President Barack Obama, and close to 80 percent of Americans desire that these rules should remain in place, preserving an open Internet. This figure includes 73 percent of Republicans.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the only black member on the five-member commission, and spokesman for digital civil right, commented, “Net neutrality is the First Amendment for the Internet.”

Clyburn argues that the Internet is similar to a utility. “People should not have to choose between paying their water bills, paying their rent, eating and being connected,” said Clyburn.

Pai maintains that the current regulation has been an impediment to investment that is designed to build networks. He commented that this “utility-style regulations were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against the flea—except there was no flea.”

Clyburn refers to broadband as “the greatest equalizer of our time,” and, during her tenure of the FCC, she has promoted expansion of a program to provide lower-cost broadband service to low-income communities.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the repeal on Thursday, and the Republican-led agency is expected to approve it. However, if it does, the issue may be destined to be heard in court.

A senior FCC official commented, “Whenever we do anything big and major, people go to court.”