Protecting the Digital Elite Keeps Americans Offline

12/13/2010 05:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For months, during the ongoing net neutrality debate, the positions of the national civil rights organizations have been largely distorted. As the Federal Communications Commission inches closer to a solution on this issue, attacks on the ability of civil rights leaders to make autonomous decisions persist. Such attacks, however, are merely distractions and do little more than attempt to undermine the actual stance of these groups.

The national civil rights organizations have always supported the five (out of six) net neutrality principles that are most vital to an open Internet -- non-discrimination against legal content, devices, and software; competition, and transparency. They have consistently demonstrated their belief in Internet equality, and have set as their primary goal universal broadband adoption by all Americans.

The national civil rights organizations are focused on ensuring that people of limited means are not made to subsidize the costs of high volume Internet users. They are also focused on ensuring job growth and digital entrepreneurship opportunities for traditionally underserved people and communities. Presently, unemployment stands at 16% for African Americans, 13.2% for Hispanics and 9.8% for the nation at large. At a time when unemployment is shamefully high and families are struggling to make ends meet, the civil rights groups want to ensure that any new regulations do not impede job creation and slow down our economic recovery.

While some promote net neutrality as a means of protecting the digital elite, civil rights organizations are committed to ensuring that poor and low income individuals are provided first class digital citizenship. The extreme position advocated by some of the "high tech" groups would leave 100 million Americans offline. It would lock in place the inability of more than two-thirds of Americans making less than $20,000 a year to afford broadband at home.

Only 20% of Internet users consume 80% of Internet bandwidth. Sacrificing the interests of the many to elevate the interests of these few is inequitable, illogical and immoral. Requiring the poor to subsidize the costs of the wealthy is not the approach we should adopt for promoting digital equality.

Unlike a few activists who prefer to attack people who do not see the world as they do, the civil rights organizations have been focused on representing the interests of the unrepresented and underserved Americans who most need their support. We are not in this to attract media attention. The civil rights organizations stand strong in their support for an open and accessible Internet because universal broadband adoption truly is the civil rights issue of our day. Absent the efforts of the national civil rights groups, the interests of the millions of Americans offline will continue to go unheard.