If the ethos of America is about removing unfair barriers to individual opportunity and success, then it is un-American to give low-income communities substandard Internet service that creates barriers to economic opportunity and democratic engagement. Still, Metro PCS is doing just that — offering a cell phone package to poor people that is only affordable because it contains significant roadblocks to full Internet access.
Despite outrage from both the civil rights and public interest communities over the gross inequity of a tiered Internet — one for the wealthy and a different one for the poor — the Minority Media and Telecommunication Council’s David Honig insisted in Politico this week that the company’s pricing plan is standard industry practice and beneficial to low-income families that want affordable service. “They have offered higher-priced data plans, they are not blocking service,” Honig said. “Not everything you call network neutrality leads to network equality for minorities.” Great soundbite — too bad the facts disprove the fiction.
Metro PCS has seized upon recent rules passed by the FCC which fail to protect wireless users as an opportunity to tier the cell phone data packages it offers, and make a killing on the backs of its poorest customers. Lowering the price for partial Internet service while calling it “unlimited access” is a fraudulent gimmick that Metro PCS hopes will confuse low-income consumers into buying its phones. Yep, tiered service is becoming, as Honig suggests, “standard industry practice”. The FCC’s rules paved the way for Metro PCS to give its poorest consumers access to only a few websites, sell that substandard service at a discounted price, and call it “affordable Internet service”. Cheaper phone service is great — and the right thing to do. If only having full access to the whole Internet wasn’t such a necessary prerequisite for democratic participation, then MetroPCS might actually be the social justice hero Honig makes them out to be- instead of the poverty pimp they actually are.
Read the rest at the Huffington Post.