By Orson Aguilar
I’ve written a couple of times about how the policies coming from the Trump administration and the current Congress amount to a war on communities of color. That war has now reached your smartphone – and your computer and any other device you own that’s connected to the internet.
During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules designed to protect your right to access the information you want via the internet, without your internet service provider playing favorites. Without such protections, your ISP could, for example, charge you extra if you do your online shopping with a local small business and less if you shop with the megabusiness that’s part of the same corporate behemoth that owns your ISP. Or it could give its corporate cousin’s online shopping site faster download speeds, while making you sit and wait if you want to process a transaction with that local small business.
Without such protections, which go by the unglamorous name of “net neutrality,” your ISP could pick and choose what sources of information to let you access, and how rapidly and easily you can access them. So a news site that criticizes big tech and telecom companies might get slowed down or blocked, while another that parrots what big telecom wants you to hear gets first-rate service and stays easily accessible.
Who loses in this scenario? Anyone who’s not wealthy and powerful. First on the list will be communities of color and the small businesses rooted in those communities. By and large, people of color have considerably less wealth than white Americans, and the businesses they own are smaller. If net neutrality goes away, they’ll be hit first and hardest. So will activists in our communities, who depend on online organizing.
Trump’s FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, made clear some time ago that he was gunning for net neutrality and other consumer protections. Now he’s moving that effort into high gear, kicking it off with a big speech in Washington, D.C. April 26. In case you doubt who benefits, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has called Trump administration telecommunications and broadband policies “amazing.”
Pai based his argument on an absurd premise. “It’s basic economics,” he said. “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”
Really? By that argument, we should never have passed civil rights laws, since more laws and regulations would just cause us to have less civil rights – right? Try that argument on anyone who lived in the Jim Crow south and tell me how they react.
Ah, some will say, but that’s a social issue and this is business. Okay, let’s look at the auto industry, and specifically at auto safety. For decades carmakers paid little attention to safety, and when a halfhearted attempt at adding safety features didn’t juice sales for Ford, the industry concluded, “safety doesn’t sell.”
Then, in 1966, the federal government began adopting mandatory car safety standards. Forced to add safety systems, carmakers figured they might as well promote them, and safety quickly became a selling point – so much so that innovation in things like sophisticated crash-avoidance technology now leaps far ahead of government standards, and car commercials regularly tout safety ratings as a reason to buy a particular model.
We regulated something important to protect consumers and we got more of it – lots more of it.
The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites…
The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without net neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without net neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.
Everyone (except Big Telecom executives and shareholders, that is) will lose if Trump’s FCC succeeds in shutting down net neutrality, but communities of color will suffer the most. We can’t let that happen.
You can help by doing two things right now. First, file a comment with the FCC at https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom-comments. Second, call your representatives in Congress and tell them you want them to fight to protect net neutrality. If you aren’t sure who represents you, simply call the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. The operator there can direct you to both your Senate and House members.
Tell Congress and the administration you want to preserve a free and open internet.