Open Letter to Civil Rights Community on Net Neutrality

This letter is co-authored by Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press.

The debate over Network Neutrality has intensified since the FCC announced its intention to clarify and codify its Network Neutrality rules.

We believe in spirited debate, especially over issues as important as Net Neutrality and the future of the Internet. But we believe it’s critical that we have a debate based on facts and not name calling or denunciations.

Free Press and the National Hispanic Media Coalition strongly support Network Neutrality. Yet we have been troubled by some of the heated rhetoric that has gone back and forth over whether civil rights organizations should be for or against Network Neutrality. In general, this debate has too often descended into outrageous allegations of all kinds.

Some recent articles and comments have been perceived as painting all civil rights groups as “sell outs” for opposing or otherwise expressing concern over Network Neutrality regulation. This has ignited an equally strong response. We’ve also seen groups denounced as radicals, communists and enemies of America for their positions on this question. We would like to see the debate shift back to the substance of the issues. We will all benefit from a clear and transparent discussion of what this policy is and will do. A commitment to civility will benefit everyone involved.

We value and understand the historic role the civil rights community has played in fighting for a more just society. The fact that some civil rights groups, alongside many other groups, receive funding from phone and cable companies to support important programs does not mean those groups are somehow incapable of making their own policy decisions. Every group on both sides of the issue should simply be called upon to make a substantive case for their position – and be judged according to the merits of their arguments.

And they certainly should not be lumped into the same category with phony grassroots groups created by industry for the sole purpose of deceiving the public and lawmakers by pretending to represent real people. These “astroturf” groups exist solely to support the business agenda of those who fund them, and they should be exposed as a cynical form of special interest politics.

We are also concerned by suggestions that all proponents of Network Neutrality are digital elites who don’t care about increasing access and adoption to poorer communities who either can’t afford or don’t have access to broadband services. As Net Neutrality supporters, we have fought for years to make sure the laws and regulations hold the industry accountable to the poor. We have advocated for policies that would increase competition in the broadband market, encourage lower prices and make sure broadband networks reach poorer communities.

Consumer advocates, media reformers and the civil rights community have worked together for years on critical media issues, including preventing greater media consolidation and increasing the number of women and people of color who own broadcast stations. This work must continue with all of us involved. While we may not all agree on Network Neutrality, we share similar interest in ensuring the benefits of technology reach all Americans. This current debate underscores the need for all of our organizations to do a better job of communicating while not allowing anyone to divide us along ethnic and racial lines.