By Erick Galindo
Hispanic Link News Service (January 10, 2010)

Washington, D.C. – High-stakes political maneuvering is dragging Hispanic advocacy groups here deeper into battle over the future of the Internet.

As the Federal Communications Commission moves ahead with plans to create a set of rules designed to block online monopolies from forming, supportive consumer protection organizations are pressing ethnic advocacy and civil rights groups, including the Urban League, One Economy and National Council of La Raza, to speak out in support ofnetwork neutrality.

Some, such as the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, are following the lead of telecommunication giants Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. Others are avoiding taking a position opposing the trio. Still others, including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and non-white media groups, are lining up with consumer protection groups and Web giant Google.

On one point all agree: much is at stake for communities of color.

Groups favoring network neutrality are led by the Center for Media Justice. Without it, they fear unequal access and eventual extra costs to poor and non-white communities. Its supporters came from throughout the country in December to try to sway traditional civil rights organizations to back their position.

Meeting with several such groups and federal legislators, CMJ encountered minimal opposition to its arguments. “This was new information to us, that there were civil rights organizations that believed that network neutrality was an essential policy in protecting the rights and power of people of color online,” CMJ executive director Malkia Cyril told Hispanic Link. None outright opposed the idea, she said.

Cyril, who spearheaded a series of meetings Dec. 8-10, added that one group’s representative called it “absurd” for any civil rights organization to be opposed to net neutrality.

“They are taking a measured approach to the issue,” Cyril said. “To them, the issue is whether this should be on par with broadband adoption and other issues.”

Cyril noted that the groups invited to the meetings were singled out because of their close partnerships with telecommunications companies and the fact that they had not yet taken a firm stance.

Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, told Hispanic Link that a lack of information is at the root of any rift between consumer protection and civil rights groups. “Many people of color do not have access to traditional outlets to share their work and have turned to the Internet for that purpose,” he elaborated.

Cyril added, “The leaders of the groups thanked us for meeting with them face-to-face and not letting one of the telecommunications companies mediate. So far all the information they have been getting has been coming from the telecom companies. Organizations that have deep relationships in communities of color on the ground in regions and states are much more likely to take a pro-net neutrality stance because they understand the real impact.”

LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes argues just the opposite is true.

He told Hispanic Link that the average member of the Latino community is more concerned with hackers and viruses.

LULAC’s only opposition to net neutrality is to the non-discrimination clause, which would prevent Internet service providers from favoring content or access.

Wilkes noted that LULAC’s concern is with any adverse effect that legislation could have on broadband adoption. “What we don’t want net neutrality to do is drive up price. We know that our communities are price-sensitive,” he said, adding that forcing ISPs to provide the same access to other companies’ content would be unfair since ISPs have invested into building the infrastructure.

“The only option these companies could redeem the costs of laying the pipe would be to charge more for the data itself.” Wilkes denied allegations that LULAC’s close relationship to AT&T had any influence on the matter. AT&T has donated more than a million dollars to help LULAC gain broadband access to underdeveloped communities and other philanthropic endeavors.

“Obviously we have to raise money from a variety of sources, but we never shy away from standing up for what we believe is right,” he said. “That whole argument is really unfair, especially when it only seems to be levied against minority advocacy groups.”

In this, Nogales agreed with Wilkes. “To say that these organizations are doing this for the money is way off,” Nogales said. “LULAC and these groups do a lot of great things and they have their reasons for opposing net neutrality.”

Nogales and Cyril agreed that broadband prices would not go up under net neutrality. “Our numbers point to the opposite,” Nogales said.

Cyril said it would be illegal to pass the cost on to consumers, adding she believes that the FCC will pass net neutrality and remains open to working with LULAC and others.

“There are those all across the country committed to partnering with national civil rights groups in order to promote open networks because we know that’s what empowers communities that can vote, that can advocate for themselves online,” she concluded.

Erick Galindo is editor of the national Hispanic Link Weekly Report. He can be reached at [email protected]


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