Net Neutrality Guarantees Our Digital Civil Rights

When I attended the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s Annual Symposium “First Class Digital Citizenship: A Civil and Human Right,” I was pleased to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson declare that when the media system is controlled by the powerful few, all of the rest of us can be marginalized, in the opening remarks of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Reception last week.

Access to broadband technology was a major focus of Rev. Jackson’s remarks, and of the Rainbow PUSH symposium that followed the next day. Industry has said that Net Neutrality rules would hinder their ability to build out the network to un and underserved areas.

However, in my mind it is quite the opposite; an expanded network that is not supported by strong Net Neutrality rules still leaves us all without the full power and possibility that the Internet provides.

Given this paradox, I was waiting to hear more directly about Net Neutrality at the Symposium, and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps did not disappoint.

“Anyone looking to create new opportunities, to build digital inclusiveness, and to make the availability of advanced telecommunications something tantamount to a civil right should be on-board with the principle (Net Neutrality) and working to make sure it works as intended.”

I was thrilled to hear Commissioner Copps speak about Net Neutrality and put it in the context of digital inclusion and civil rights, but I was happier still when I heard him put a finer point on the situation. “Let me put it plainly—no one will benefit more from the opportunities of an open Internet than those who have suffered lack of opportunity for generations.”

Those of us who work on media and telecommunications policy often say that it is not about the technology, but what the technology enables. In the case of the Internet, Net Neutrality rules are intrinsic to everything that it enables. That openness has allowed for entrepreneurship, content creation and social innovations that have the potential to empower and improve the lives of so many – this is the true value of the network, and this is why Net Neutrality is central to our digital civil rights.

I question those who would offer access to the network, but with the stipulation that it must be stripped of its value. We all must stay focused on a future where everyone will have access to an open Internet that will facilitate the full range of opportunities that the technology provides.

This post by Chance Williams was originally published in the Media and Democracy Coalition's bi-monthly newsletter.