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Free Press to Communities of Color: We Know What's Best For You

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Recently a friend forwarded an e-mail to me that came from a net neutrality advocacy group called "Free Press." This somewhat pushy and biased e-mail solicited interviews with minority news outlets that would enable the group to proselytize its pro-net neutrality agenda to communities of color.

My first thought when reading this email was, "what do these folks know about the needs and wants of communities of color, especially on an issue as impactful as Net Neutrality?"

In addition to my 30 years serving the needs of communities of color as public servant in Chicago, I am currently President of the National Association of Black County Officials, so I have in-depth knowledge of these communities and understand the profound negative impact additional Internet regulations, known as Net Neutrality, will have on communities of color.

Despite the assertions laid out in the e-mail, there is very real concern among communities of color that the FCC's planned "third way" for new regulations would discourage investment in sorely needed broadband infrastructure, stifle innovation, and kill job growth that stems from the wide availability of broadband services. Anyone can tell you that the current Internet we enjoy today was built on the investment of private companies, companies that provide jobs and companies that continue to build out the needed access to broadband infrastructure, both wireless and wired. While I would love to be able to tell you that the public sector has been able to invest just as much, that is unfortunately not the reality. Furthermore, we need to ask what do these government regulations really do for us in terms of increasing adoption of broadband technology, and also accessibility across America.

You see, the fact of the matter is that Free Press is an advocacy group that does not represent any communities of color, having only its own elitist agenda and the agenda of the big internet content providers in mind, while often taking overt swipes at legitimate and established minority groups that have reservations about the FCC's heavy-handed net neutrality proposals.

The simple fact is that leading civil right organizations like the NAACP have gone on the record expressing their concern with the aggressive net neutrality regulations being put forth by the FCC.

In the Free Press e-mail, I see an expressed concern that communities of color are being marginalized under the current system. I can't disagree more. What's holding communities of color down is a lack of access to broadband and low rates of adoption -- not the lack of rules that protect wealthy, high-tech users. Overaggressive net neutrality regulations promulgated by the FCC are not going to alleviate the pressure on poor communities. Why not? Because national buildout takes money -- tens of billions of it -- and the public sector cannot provide that funding. Instead, investments by private sector companies can. It is a fact that the federal government pledged $7.2 billion for broadband from the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, while the FCC itself has said that up to $350 billion is required to achieve 100% broadband penetration. Given the state of government finances, most of the $350 billion will have to come from the private sector.

Instead of imposing regulations that suppress investment and job growth, the FCC should focus on implementing the first-rate National Broadband Plan it released in March, which is aimed at providing universal broadband access to all communities.

Also in its e-mail to minority news outlets, Free Press relies on the assumption that without FCC oversight the internet providers would have "free rein to prioritize, block or slow access to content on the web." These claims are boldly passed off as fact without recognizing the record on these matters -- since the original four net neutrality principles were enacted in 2005, there have been only three instances that required intervention, and these isolated incidents were handled quickly and without much fanfare. As a matter of fact, in a decision by liberal Judge David Tatel, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals has come down on the side of those against further Net Neutrality regulations in the Comcast v. FCC case.

Legal maneuvers aside, it is quite clear from the established record of minority groups filing with the FCC that additional net neutrality rules are not in the best interest of communities of color. Unfortunately, groups acting under the pretense of serving the public interest muddle the arguments and misrepresent the facts to further their very specific agenda, which does not have the best interest of low-income, urban and rural communities in mind. I don't know about you, but I certainly don't need Free Press, with zero roots and zero track record in my community at all, to tell me what is in my best interest.

While I will always encourage a respectable debate on an issue, one met with integrity, I can only be so lucky that certain "public interest groups" would do the same. So let's make sure that every side of the argument is backed up by facts, or at least through solid arguments, without fear campaigns and smear tactics. Let communities of color decide what regulatory path is best for them, not the Washington elite.

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