FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told a minority media conference audience Jan. 22 that network neutrality is not a threat to minority advancement but smart regulation that will help avoid the "damage" done to diversity by radio and TV deregulation.
The FCC's Democratic majority is backing a proposal to expand and codify the FCC's Internet openness principles. Since the Democrats have a 3-2 edge, some version of that proposal is likely to pass.
The minority community has been divided over the issue of network neutrality, with a number of groups cautioning the FCC, and more recently the White House and Congress, that network neutrality rules could widen the digital divide by discouraging the private investment necessary to get broadband to the poorer and minority communities that are currently unserved and underserved.
Clyburn made it clear she sided with those who saw the rules instead as a way to prevent "[ceding] control of the most significant communications advancement in our lifetimes."
"Together we must ensure that people of color--and all Americans--can 'participate as owners, employees, and suppliers' on-line," she said. "That cannot happen, however, if we passively permit a new set of gatekeepers to erect yet another set of barriers to entry."
While broadband adoption has been the focus of much attention in terms of enfranchising the minority community, Clyburn said closing the digital divide was about more than that.
"[W]hen it comes to communities of color--and other traditionally underrepresented groups--the broadband story does not and cannot end with adoption. Broadband is not simply a one-way challenge limited to finding ways in which individuals can obtain meaningful high-speed Internet access."
She said it was also about economic empowerment of entrepreneurs who could only succeed so long as they do not face entry barriers too high too surmount. "To my surprise, most of the filings submitted and public statements issued by some of the leading groups representing people of color on this matter have been silent on this make-or-break issue," she said. "There has been almost no discussion of how important--how essential--it is for traditionally underrepresented groups to maintain the low barriers to entry that our current open Internet provides."
"I am pleased and encouraged by Commissioner Clyburn's strong expression of support for open Internet protections," said Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman. "Commissioner Clyburn understands that transporting old media ownership models to the Internet, and increasing gatekeepers' control over it, would only diminish its potential for fostering free expression and promoting civil rights."