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Navarrow Wright

Navarrow Wright

Posted: May 3, 2010 11:45 AM

When "Non-Discrimination" Actually Discriminates

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Recently, the FCC closed the reply comment period for its Open Internet docket. I was among a diverse array of minority entrepreneurs who filed comments that spoke to the potential negative impact that an aspect of the currently proposed version of net neutrality rules could have on minority businesses in the digital ecosystem.

Our point was simple: the so-called "non-discrimination principle" could have a negative and discriminatory impact on minority digital entrepreneurs and the communities we serve. You can check out the entire filing here: http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7020437463, but the gist of our argument is this: minority businesses are particularly vulnerable to issues related to lack of access to capital and sustainable business opportunities, and the non-discrimination rule would prevent us from building strategic partnerships that could benefit our businesses and consumer base.

When the FCC is talking about "non-discrimination," it is talking about economic, not racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is not okay, and if any business denies or provides unequal service on the basis of a person's race, it deserves to be punished. But that is not what we're talking about here. What the FCC is referring to is a benign form of economic discrimination, the likes of which we see replicated throughout our society.

Think about it. People who want to guarantee the expeditious delivery of their parcels are encouraged to use FedEx rather than the U.S. Postal Service. People who want to get on all the rides at the amusement park before anyone else are encouraged to get in the Fast Lane. Folks who travel frequently up and down the highway have the option of purchasing an Easy Pass to avoid delays at toll roads. This system of economic differentiation is simply the stuff our country's economic model is made out of. It's one of the hallmarks of life in America we don't have to be the same, moving at the same pace, limited by what our peers can or cannot do, what they can or cannot afford.

That's what is really at issue with the non-discrimination principle--the appropriate method and extent of economic discrimination to ensure a thriving Internet ecosystem for all, rich and poor. And the FCC's potential proscription of economic discrimination is precisely why so many minority businesses are concerned about the impact that this proposed FCC rule could have on their prospects for success.

If you really break down the six principles that comprise the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules, you'd find that 99% of the people aware of the net neutrality debate would agree that open access to content, applications, devices, competition among service providers, and transparency are exactly the parts of the dynamic Internet environment that we want to maintain. We have those assurances now, and we want to maintain them for future generations of Internet users.

We all want to get to the same place, but the route currently proposed by the FCC does not appear to be the best course.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In deciding the outcome for net neutrality, my hope is that the FCC considers both sides of the coin when evaluating the potential effects of the non-discrimination principle, especially on minority businesses and consumer bases, lest our universal Internet experience be consigned to a trip to h*ll in a hand basket.

 

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