San Antonio Residents Push AT&T and Rep. Joaquin Castro to Support Real Net Neutrality

San Antonio residents are turning up the heat on AT&T and Rep. Joaquin Castro.

Last Thursday, the Martinez Street Women’s Center led a protest of more than 60 people outside AT&T’s San Antonio office. The group called out the phone giant for opposing real Net Neutrality protections.

The protest kicked off a series of #DontBlockMyInternet rallies in Albuquerque, Berkeley, Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and New York City outside the offices of corporations that have tried to kill Net Neutrality, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. The Media Action Grassroots Network, a local-to-local network of more than 175 grassroots community organizations, is organizing the rallies.

In San Antonio, children and adults holding homemade signs chanted outside AT&T as motorists honked their horns in support of the rally. The protesters, mostly Latin@s, included those who still remember the pre-Internet era — and those who are just a little older than Facebook. In all cases, their futures depend on access to a free and open Internet.

With so much at stake, these Texans called on Castro, their representative in Congress, to support real Net Neutrality protections like those under consideration at the FCC.

A rising star in the Democratic Party, Castro sent a statement to local media in response to the rally, saying that he supports “an open and accessible Internet, including Net Neutrality” and looks “forward to continuing the debate” on the issue.

That’s not good enough.

What the congressman hasn’t said is whether he supports FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s move to reestablish the agency’s authority to adopt strong and enforceable Net Neutrality rules. Wheeler has proposed reclassifying broadband access providers under Title II of the Communications Act, an approach that millions of people across the country have advocated for.

Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are doing everything in their power to prevent the FCC from taking this action. They claim that they support Net Neutrality even as they lobby Congress to strip the Commission of its authority to craft good rules.

Castro says he supports Net Neutrality but has said nothing about whether he supports Title II — rendering his position indistinguishable from that of the big phone and cable companies.

And there’s reason to doubt whether Castro actually supports Net Neutrality. Last May, he signed a letter opposing any FCC effort to use Title II to protect the open Internet.

When the San Antonio Express News contacted Castro's office in June to question his position, the congressman claimed there had been a miscommunication and said that he was withdrawing his name from the anti-Net Neutrality letter. According to the paper, Castro said it wasn’t right to comment on the issue before the public had a chance to weigh in.

Since then, 4 million people have commented at the FCC — with the vast majority calling for real Title II protections. More than 100 racial justice and civil rights groups, including San Antonio organizations like the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the Martinez Street Women’s Center, News Taco and the Southwest Workers Union, have also called for Title II.

The San Antonio Express News published an editorial last week in support of the FCC’s proposed rules. The agency will vote on the matter during its Feb. 26 open meeting.

It’s still unclear whether Castro supports the FCC’s action and the real Net Neutrality safeguards San Antonio residents are taking to the streets to protect.

It’s time for Rep. Castro to show true leadership on this issue. He needs to show who he cares more about — his constituents or the big ISPs.

Joseph Torres is the senior external affairs director for Free Press and Steven Renderos is the national organizer for the Center for Media Justice.