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People of Color Need the Open Internet: Racial Justice Coalition Urges the FCC to Preserve Net Neutrality Under Title II

As millions from all walks of life take part in Net Neutrality proceeding, the agency fails to comply with FOIA requests for 47,000 consumer complaints about ISPs.

On Wednesday, Voices for Internet Freedom, a coalition of organizations including Center for Media Justice, advocating for the digital rights of communities of color, filed comments calling on the Federal Communications Commission to maintain the strong Net Neutrality protections it adopted in 2015.

The comments filed by the Voices coalition include more than 100 personal stories from people of color across the country whose lives have been transformed by bright-line Net Neutrality rules.

“The open internet has empowered people of color with new opportunities for self-expression, entrepreneurship, political participation, education, employment, housing, health care, racial justice, and many other vital human needs,” the coalition argued in its comments to the FCC. “The FCC’s proposed repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order will harm all internet users, and it will disproportionately harm people of color.”

The Voices coalition is also deeply troubled that the FCC has failed to comply with FOIA requests filed more than two months ago by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) calling on the agency to make public the 47,000 Net Neutrality complaints it has received from consumers since June 2015. Releasing these complaints would allow the agency, Congress and the public to more fully assess the behavior of internet service providers since the Open Internet Order went into effect.

The Voices filing is available here: https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/voices_for_internet_freedom_coalition_comments.pdf

In May, the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai voted to begin a rulemaking process designed to repeal the Commission’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules, which prevent ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, throttling or discriminating against online communications via pay-for-play schemes that would split the internet into fast and slow lanes.

The Voices coalition, led by 18MillionRising.org, the Center for Media Justice, Color Of Change, Free Press and the NHMC, is urging the FCC chairman to preserve the 2015 FCC decision that rightly classified internet access providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.

“Net Neutrality is about preserving civil rights online,” said Free Press Digital Campaigner and Kairos Fellow Lucia Martinez. “If corporations control the internet, they control the most important communication and organizing tool of our time — and they could use this to censor political speech and crush movements for racial, gender and economic justice. Communities of color need the open internet to continue fighting for a world in which our humanity and dignity can be realized.”

“The repeal of Net Neutrality would undermine the public voice and democratic rights of people of color,” said Center for Media Justice Organizing Director Steven Renderos. “In a media environment where communities of color own less than 3 percent of TV stations, the internet allows us to bypass racial discrimination to speak for ourselves. That’s why the Center for Media Justice has collected thousands of comments which highlight why communities of color won’t stand for anything less than the strongest Net Neutrality protections available. We know that an internet without Net Neutrality will be a place where our voices won’t matter.”

“Chairman Pai’s proposal to gut the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules will be devastating for Black communities, “ said Color Of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson. “It will set us back from a historic achievement: For the first time in history we can now communicate with a global audience — for entertainment, education, or political organizing — without prohibitive costs, or mediation by government or industry. We’re not going to go silently while the FCC plans to take away these key protections. That’s why today Color Of Change joined with the Voices for Internet Freedom coalition to submit an official comment to the FCC docket, making arguments against Chairman Pai’s proposed rules change. As part of our filing we included hundreds of stories that our members shared, answering ‘why does Net Neutrality matter to you?’ These stories, which are also available to the public, send a loud message to the FCC: Black communities care about Net Neutrality, and we won’t sit aside and let it be destroyed.”

“Make no mistake: Abandoning Title II threatens the fundamental value of the internet for communities of color,” said 18MillionRising.org Executive Director Cayden Mak. “We have long used the internet to create the media and tell the stories that have been ignored by the mainstream, and making sure that the internet is free and open means this and future generations of young Asian Americans have equal opportunity to define themselves and what they stand for.”

“When the FCC asks about the value of the Net Neutrality rules, Latinos and other people of color are ready to answer with personal examples of how a free and open internet was instrumental in how they built businesses to support their families, crowdfunded community programs that turned into movements, registered to vote in record numbers, organized marches with a global impact, and created shows that elevate our stories from YouTube into mainstream media,” said National Hispanic Media Coalition Policy and Legal Affairs Director Carmen Scurato. “There shouldn’t be any question that allowing internet service providers to cash in on new barriers will curtail how far our voices can travel online and have devastating impacts. We hope that where corporations see our potential as a new revenue stream, the FCC will see us as people whose unfettered ability to communicate online supports a thriving economy and democracy.”

NHMC continues to urge the FCC to provide full details of the many customer complaints related to potential violations of Net Neutrality, stating that this evidence is critical to the current proceeding. The requests sought all open-internet consumer complaints the FCC has received since the 2015 Open Internet Order went into effect, in addition to documents related to the open-internet ombudsperson’s interactions with internet users.

“It’s possible that disclosing complaints about Net Neutrality violations would show that consumers still have issues with their internet service providers, and the rules provide a mechanism in which to remedy that,” NHMC’s Scurato added. “When the FCC is asking how the rules it wants to repeal have helped people, it’s important that it first allow review of the 47,000 complaints that consumers have submitted over the last two years.”

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