A group of minority and women's organizations have called on
the FCC to think hard about the impact of proposed network neutrality rules on
the digital divide.
In a letter and proposal to the commission Tuesday, the
groups asked for a field hearing and workshop on the subject.
The groups are essentially the same ones that raised red
flags early on about the possible negative impact on minority access to
broadband of network neutrality rules, depending on how they were crafted. They
then took umbrage at the suggestion by some in the public advocacy
community that the groups were carrying water for big media.
The group making the pitch include the Asian American Justice Center,
the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, the National
Black Caucus of State Legislators, and the National Conference of Black Mayors.
In their proposal, they asked the FCC to drill down into
issues like whether network neutrality issues should apply to search engines
and content and application providers--the FCC has signaled it should be
confined to the ISPs.
They also suggest that a number of "facially neutral,
idealistic" social policies unintentionally widened social divides by race
and income, citing Medicare and Social Security, for example. It also points to
school desegregation and the FCC's own minority broadcast ownership rules as
examples of programs that failed to close divides due in part to insufficient
enforcement. "What can be learned from these experiences and how can that
knowledge be applied to the design and implementation of potential network
They ask whether the FCC should do more research into
whether net neutrality rules would widen the divide or lengthen the timetable
for closing it.
The groups are
concerned that the rules, as applied, could inhibit investment, cost jobs,
and actually delay build-outs to underserved populations, which tend to be
disproportionately rural and minority.
They also ask whether there is a tension between the concept
of neutrality and affirmative actions to prevent discrimination or remedy past
In short, the groups want the FCC to fully vet the rules
with an eye toward possible unintended consequences for minorities, and to do
so through a field hearing and workshop. They want the FCC to look at each of
its six proposed neutrality rules to gauge their effect on minority investment,
deployment, adoption, and participation in the broadband economy.
The groups even suggest potential witnesses, which include
National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow,
Rainbow/PUSH founder Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAB General Counsel Jane Mago, former
FCC Chairman Michael Powell, Comcast lobbyist Joe Waz and AT&T lobbyist Jim