Net Neutrality: Opening the Doors of Opportunity

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn made a direct appeal to the civil rights community to support Net Neutrality rules during an appearance at a forum hosted by the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies in Washington earlier this month.

They argued that Network Neutrality offers the unique opportunity for people of color to compete in business and create their own media presence. But many of the largest civil rights groups in the country, like the League of United Latin American Citizens, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Urban League and the Asian American Justice Center have either opposed or expressed skepticism about the “unintended consequences” of passing Network Neutrality rules. They claim that Network Neutrality would widen the digital divide.

The industry has been using this scare tactic, this bogus talking point, to get the civil rights community to oppose our Internet freedoms and to prevent the FCC from passing Network Neutrality rules. The industry claims Network Neutrality would deter investment and increase costs, including the price of broadband. They also claim they would pass along the savings to customers if the FCC scrapped Network Neutrality protections.

But what the industry doesn’t want the public to know is that investment costs continue to decline for the industry while profits rise. Some companies are making 80 percent profit margins, yet they haven’t passed the savings along to customers.

President Obama promised to “take a backseat to no one” on the issue. And FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn went to the Joint Center event to challenge the false arguments the telecom companies have drummed up as a scare tactic to influence the position of communities of color on Network Neutrality.

“Anyone looking to open the doors of opportunity, to foster digital inclusiveness, and to make the availability of modern telecommunications a right of all Americans needs to be on board on this issue,” said Copps. “It would be a lost opportunity of historic and tragic proportion for diversity groups and civil rights organizations to join forces, even inadvertently, with those whose endgame has nothing to do with creating the kind of open and transparent networks the country needs. This is the time for those who believe in expanding opportunity to pull together, not to pull apart.”

Commissioner Clyburn rejected the argument that communities of color have to choose between increased broadband adoption and an open Internet. She added that she has seen no evidence that broadband providers would actually lower the cost to consumers if they’re allowed to discriminate. She asked: “Is there any serious suggestion that this is likely to occur?”

Clyburn urged everyone not to let this “window of opportunity close” in ensuring that phone and cable companies can’t erect barriers that prevent people of color from creating their own media presence. She warned against duplicating the mistakes of the past, when people of color where shut out from owning broadcast stations.

Days after the Joint Center event, Clyburn hammered the industry for announcing that broadband prices would increase even though recent studies, including one conducted by the Joint Center, found that the cost of broadband was a primary factor for the digital divide.

She called on the commission to examine whether there’s enough competition in the broadband market.

“When prices rise across the industry, and where there are only a limited number of players in the game, we have to ask ourselves whether there is any meaningful competition in the marketplace,” Clyburn said.

But the companies would rather stoke fear and uncertainty about Net Neutrality than talk about the lack of competition in the broadband market.

Does anyone honestly believe that broadband companies are going to lower prices if they are successful in stifling our Internet freedoms and killing Network Neutrality?

I wouldn’t bet on it.