We had high apple pie, up in the sky hopes for the promise of an open Internet. Why were communities of color and the poor so happy? Because the key to the Obama Administration's success in the 2008 elections was harnessing the power of the Internet.
Much like the innovation of an open Internet, Obama’s 2008 campaign mobilized communities across the U.S. to engage in the democratic process in ways never conceived before. Excuse the Sinatra references but the problems of a deregulated Internet haven’t gone kerplot. Despite the “hope” offered by President Obama’s promise to ensure an open Internet, the “change” we expected is being threatened as we speak.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the FCC may leave the decisions regarding access to the Internet mainly in the hands of the phone and cable companies. Doing so essentially means abandoning net neutrality and other consumer protections. This possibility is the result of the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia’s recent decision, which further questioned the FCC’s authority to regulate Internet service providers. The court left the FCC with two options. One is the use of ‘ancillary’ jurisdiction, which the Washington Post reports is the favored option, right now. The second option would be the reclassification of the Internet from a Title I Service to a Title II Service. The argument against reclassification is that it could impose overly burdensome regulation on carriers, and might deter investment.
The various sides involved in this heated debate would have you believe the question around private investment is the proverbial tipping point. Certainly this is true for the Telco’s—though its clear that their commitment is to increased connectivity that builds an ever-expanding profit margin, rather than connecting the poor. From our perspective, as people who live and work in marginalized communities—it feels different. For our communities, a lack of investment on the part of Internet Service Providers has always been part of the problem—rarely the solution. We believe that Net neutrality and a reclassification of the Internet merely reflects the evolution of a service essential to our democracy. Further, it ensures the Internet remains the most transformative communications network ever created. Without this, the Internet’s historic role in helping maintain an informed democracy diminishes, as we begin to divide along newly established digital-citizenry lines.
As Latinos, we understand the harm caused to our communities when we are treated like second-class citizens, we need only look to Arizona. Our community recently witnessed Governor Jan Brewer (AZ), sign SB1070 into law. You know, the one that establishes Juan Crow in Arizona by giving local law enforcement carte blanche to question anyone they believe to be undocumented. We voiced our emphatic opposition to this law through petitions, art, music and demonstrations. All of these actions were facilitated through the Internet. The tools of an open net: web casting, Twitter, online petitions, file-sharing, Instant Message and even basic e-mail make it possible for millions of people in our community to have a voice beyond their immediate surroundings. This amplified voice through the Internet is our new democracy, one that doesn’t make the distinction between “legal” and “illegal”. That’s what is at stake for us in the fight for net neutrality.
As we have seen with the previous Administrations, the appointment of the FCC Chairman can be the defining moment in establishing a President's communications policy. President Obama's choice of Julius Genachowski to lead the Federal Communications Commission signaled that media and telecommunications issues would take a high profile in this administration.
On November 14, 2007 then Presidential candidate Obama said, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others, then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The Internet is perhaps to most open network in history and we have to keep it that way.”
Those of us who work in marginalized communities heard this message. Our hope was that the rhetoric of a transformative candidacy–one geared toward uniting the various divides of the country–would seep into the broader workings of the administrative agencies in Washington, namely the FCC.
And while we, as Latinos—the fastest growing community of color in the United States—have a stake in this fight, so do millions of other people of color, poor, working-class and rural communities. We know because nearly 400 organizations representing approximately one million people have signed the same pledge for digital inclusion that we have. We want affordable access AND an open Internet. Why? Because net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. It is a powerful tool for a historically disenfranchised community, and particularly important for a younger generation who deserves constant connectivity as well as the freedom to express themselves and their culture.
We hope that the FCC Chairman listens to our voices. We believe he will; after all he said he would. After Chairman Genachowski delivered his agency's National Broadband Plan to the public, he sat down for a YouTube Interview in which he answered questions submitted and voted on by U.S. residents on Citizentube. The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), of which we are a part, submitted a question that was voted number one, in our category.
"Will you commit to personally meeting with 'grassroots groups' (outside beltway) in the cities that you travel to, especially before moving ahead on important topics like net neutrality, media ownership, and wireless competition?”
His answer, “Yes!” We’re counting on Chairman Genachowski’s commitment to grassroots communities being more than YouTube lip service. We also hope that his commitment extends to these issues irrespective of geography. Even if he’s not traveling to one of the cities we live and work in, we hope our voices matter. We believe they do, and we hope the Chairman believes so, too. After all, the voices of the Telco’s shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard. So we still have high hopes that the marginalization our communities face in the physical world aren’t replicated digitally. We’re not asking for regulation that stunts investment to the Internet, instead we DEMAND the preservation of our voices which fuel its growth.
amalia deloney, MAG-Net Coordinator, Center for Media Justice
Steven Renderos, Media Justice Organizer, Main Street Project