“Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others.” — Verizon in legal filings challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules
The Problem: Structural Inequality in the Media
People of color have historically been marginalized in the media due to the structural inequalities in our nation’s media system. Too often, we are presented stereotypically, which harms our communities.
A major reason we are portrayed stereotypically stems from the fact that people of color own very few broadcast stations. We do not, for the most part, have any say in how our communities are portrayed. Instead, corporate gatekeepers decide whether our voices are heard and how our stories are told.
The fight to protect Internet freedom is critical to ensuring that our communities control our own images and tell our own stories in the digital age.
What’s at Stake: Dissent, Dollars and Democracy
In a digital age, open Internet rules protect dissenting voices. Communities of color, and other groups pushed to the margins of debate, have a long history of creating their own media to express dissent in the struggle for rights and opportunity. Without an open Internet, these constituencies are denied a vital platform to express opinions and shape debates on critical issues that affect their lives.
The open Internet makes it harder for Internet companies to help spy on Americans in a digital age. The recent revelations about the extent of NSA spying — all conducted with the help of tech and broadband companies — should frighten, but not surprise, anyone with a dissenting voice.
In the 1950s, the FBI’s counterintelligence program often wiretapped phones in an effort to discredit the civil rights and black power movements. Following the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, the New York City Police Department created a secret surveillance program to target the local Muslim community. Open Internet rules alone can’t prevent such spying, but they are critical for prohibiting blocking and content discrimination by the broadband providers themselves. These principles help dissenting voices hold government and corporations accountable — clearing the way for dissident voices like those who revealed the NSA spying program.
Racial and social justice movements need the open Internet as a major platform to contest and watchdog power. Without an open Internet …
Groups like Iraq Veterans Against the War might not be able to freely express anti-war views in the debate between the president and Congress on military action in Syria.
Groups like ColorOfChange, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Presente.org might not be able to effectively use the Internet to combat hate speech, racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media.
Groups organizing for workers’ rights and corporate accountability might face barriers to using the Internet to combat the economic inequality that is responsible for the high level of poverty and joblessness in communities of color.
Groups fighting the criminalization of people of color might not be able to use the Internet to reduce the disproportionate confinement of people of color, advocate reforms, end mass incarceration, and improve conditions of confinement.
Keeping the Internet open makes sure Internet companies can’t prey on the public. When making a profit conflicts with the practice of democracy, democracy often loses — but it doesn’t have to be this way. Net Neutrality is a principle that protects the public’s right to speak freely and assemble online, without corporate or government interference.
The open Internet protects vulnerable consumers from discrimination online. Broadband remains unaffordable for millions of low-income and vulnerable households that either disconnected or receive third-rate services even though Internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T rake in billions in revenue. But that’s not enough for these companies. The want to maximize profits by adopting predatory practices that allow them to discriminate online create fast and slow lanes for Web traffic.
Protecting the open Internet protects small business owners, and is essential to closing the racial wealth gap. (Whites have 22 times the wealth of Blacks, and 15 times that of Latinos.) Instead of exploiting working people to create wealth for others, the open Internet levels the digital playing field for the millions of small businesses owned by, and creating jobs for, people of color. These small businesses face extraordinary barriers to success, and need the open Internet to compete against larger corporations.
In today’s political environment, Internet users two-party broadband system. Without an open Internet, and in the absence of FCC authority to protect users, Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast can act as gatekeepers with tremendous motive to discriminate, censor Web traffic, and determine whose voices will be heard. Like democracy itself, the open Internet is a critical vehicle for people to tell their own stories and speak for themselves.
The fight for a free and Open Internet is a fight for democracy and social justice online and at home. As communities use organizing and the political process to reform education, housing, healthcare and more the open Internet is a critical platform for self-determination. Any erosion of digital rights erodes democratic rights, hurts organizing, and reduces the potential and impact of social justice.
The Solution: Voices for Internet Freedom
Protecting the open Internet is essential to the fight for racial justice. This is why Voices for Internet Freedom was launched in 2010: to defend the digital rights of people of color. Led by Free Press and the Center for Media Justice in partnership with ColorOfChange and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Voices is a network of organizations advocating for communities of color in the fight to protect Internet freedom from corporate and government discrimination. Through coalition building, rapid response, and communications, Voices ensures the Internet remains an open and nondiscriminatory platform for free speech and assembly.