The Open Internet Debate: Redlining 2.0

If you’re anything like me, the words “net neutrality” and “open Internet” don’t exactly get the party going on your computer screen at lunch. At a convening of ethnic journalists yesterday in San Francisco, media justice activist Malkia Cyril compared the discussions around net neutrality to “talking about the galaxy: Who cares?” Sure, it’s important stuff. And yeah, we know it’s out there. But aside from policy wonks and gadget geeks, who really pays attention?

If you’re not, you should probably start. Soon. The FCC is set to release its long-awaited National Broadband Plan on March 17, which could help more than 93 million people get online. But the question isn’t just who’s connected to the Internet, but how, and why telecom companies are making poor communities choose between fair representation and access.

We’ve covered this before on RaceWire. But the battle’s heating up.

Yesterday, a small group of journalists of color convened at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco for a panel discussion on what’s at stake for communities of color. Panelists included: Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice; James Rucker, co-founder of; music journalist Eric Arnold; and the Media Alliance’s Eloise Rose-Lee.

What’s at stake?

At one point, Eric Arnold made a great point when he said, “Imagine if the video showing Oscar Grant’s shooting was filtered on YouTube?”

Right now, the Internet’s a fairly open place. If the big telecom companies have it their way, it won’t be. We saw how unregulated markets didn't work with home mortgages. Without net neutrality, service providers get to decide whether they prioritize content that’s the most profitable. So whether it’s staying connected with family on Skype or promoting your music online, if it ain’t payin’, it ain’t playin’. Call it redlining 2.0.

Who are the key players?

There’s been a lot of news lately on who has access to the Internet. And while the latest studies have shown that communities of color are slowly gaining more access, many do so with their mobile phones: Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, just to name a few.

Then there are well known Civil Rights groups who, for one reason or another, side with big business over community interests.

And, of course, the FCC, which gets the final say.

Stay tuned.

This blog post was first published on RaceWire.