THE BLOG
10/08/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2014

Net Neutrality Matters to Communities of Color

The Internet is a place where people who do not have a seat at the table can amplify their voices. That's why working people must be front and center when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decides what to do about net neutrality.

Net neutrality -- the concept of an open Internet where all content is treated equally -- would stop companies that provide Internet access from controlling what you can see online. It means that companies like Comcast and Charter cannot make certain websites harder to visit than others or prevent certain topics from being discussed. An Internet governed by net neutrality is a place where all individuals can engage in public discourse, regardless of the size of their checking account.

An open Internet protects opportunities for communities of color. It lets people report on injustice and organize to confront it. An open Internet helps people of color launch businesses online, with lower startup costs than entrepreneurs often face. It lets artists and creators tell their own stories, rather than depending on traditional media to decide which stories are worth telling.

The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, serve as an example of how a community can use the Internet to organize and join together in the aftermath of a tragedy. In the aftermath of Michael Brown's death, images and stories shared by Ferguson residents on the Internet became a major part of news coverage. If Internet providers had made it difficult for residents to share their videos and pictures with the public, the story of Ferguson would be fundamentally different.

But some corporations want to end net neutrality in order to control content and increase profits. They want fast lanes for some web traffic but slow lanes for everyone else. Independent blogs and small startups that cannot afford the fees would be stuck in the slow lane. Communities of color -- long underrepresented in public dialogue -- would be among those hardest hit by such censorship.

The FCC is currently considering implementing a new regulatory classification for the Internet, which would promote social justice and economic equality. The FCC classifies certain forms of communications as utilities, or "common carriers." Common carriers, like those providing landline telephone services, are required to provide equal service to all users regardless of what they use it for. Classifying broadband Internet as a common carrier would preserve net neutrality and ensure that the Internet remains a place where all Americans can bring their ideas and be heard.

Four companies control around 60 percent of American broadband Internet access. They argue that making the Internet a common carrier would force them to cut investment in the most underserved neighborhoods in America.

But the evidence says otherwise: Average annual investment by telephone companies was 55 percent higher during the time when their DSL broadband service was considered a common carrier. The cable industry's average annual investment in building a network was 250 percent higher in the years before the FCC ended common carrier treatment for cable modems. Major Internet service providers are saying they will refuse to expand broadband access unless their profits increase and that's wrong. A trickle-down approach to Internet service will only fill the pockets of CEOs and increase the digital divide.

As the FCC considers whether to take this much-needed action, we must remember what is at stake. Open, broad access to technology and information spurs innovation, economic growth, job creation, and global competitiveness. Most importantly, it gives artists, activists, community leaders, whistleblowers, citizen journalists and you an opportunity to express opinions freely and openly. That must continue.