Groups representing minority legislators and other public
officials have taken their concerns about the FCC's proposed expansion and
codification of network neutrality principles to the White House and Congress.
On the same day that the Minority Media & Telecommunications
Council held a conference in Washington
on broadband and social justice, the groups circulated a letter they were
sending to the president and the Hill calling on them to intervene in a
rulemaking they warn could widen the digital divide rather than close it.
They called closing the digital divide "one of the most
pressing social and civil rights issue of our day."
They asked the president to intercede to keep the FCC
focused on a broadband plan that closes that divide and does not include any
new rules they say could threaten that end.
While they said they were "enthusiastic
supporters" of an open Internet, a point which both sides of the debate
usually concede, they said they were "concerned that some of the net
regulations currently being contemplated by the FCC lend themselves to the
creation of unmanaged networks that would increase consumer costs, hinder new
job creation, diminish service quality and reduce broadband adoption and use,
particularly among the underserved."
They also said they supported transparency and rules that
prohibit discrimination against legal content.
These and similar groups have raised their network
neutrality concerns before, including with
the FCC, arguing that if the rules are a disincentive to investment in
broadband by the private companies that must do most of the investing to get
the Internet to underserved communities, which tend to have a higher percentage
of minorities and the poor, their constituencies could suffer. "Instead, [it could] lead to increased
digital disenfranchisement of our nation's minority and low-income
communities. Many civil rights advocates
fear [new internet regulations] could impede broadband adoption and could,
instead, lead to increased digital disenfranchisement of our nation's minority
and low-income communities," they said Friday (Jan. 22).
Some network neutrality rule activists have countered that
the groups were making those arguments for communications company contributors,
which led to counter-charges of racism and paternalism and, eventually, a ratcheting
back of the rhetoric.
The letters came from the National Black Caucus of State
Legislators, National Foundation for Women Legislators, National Organization
of Black Elected legislative Women, National Conference of Black Mayors and the
National Association of Black County Officials.