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President, Civil Rights Groups on opposite sides

On The Media

By Ron Wynn



Few media issues are more vital in this century and beyond than Internet access. As this society continues to reduce the amount of  news and information available via print, those who either can't or don't utilize the Internet will increasingly find themselves not just out of the loop, but out of luck when it comes to knowing about what is happening their communities, the nation at large, and the world as a whole. Even though it often seems there's nothing online except gossip and porn, there's a wealth of material on multiple topics available at the click of a browser for those who know how to find it, and many ways available to learn for others less familiar with how it operates.


But like everything else, the corporations want more Internet control, particularly the ability to determine for users who get their online service from various providers, be it phone companies or cable outlets, so-called "fast" lanes, the opportunity for quicker service. Of course, they're not interested in making that free. They want to set up rate schedules that will create cyberspace inequality. There will be broadband users who can only afford slow service as opposed to those paying a premium price for faster service.


As a candidate for President, Barack Obama was a proponent of what's known as "Net Neutrality," keeping the Internet free from corporate control, though his enemies see it as governmental excursion into the free market. This week he announced plans to push for "Net Neutrality," an announcement that, as expected, put him squarely on the opposite side of right-wing Republicans. But what was unexpected was there are some 40 Civil Rights groups, including the country's two most prominent the NAACP and The Urban League, that are also opposed to his plans for "Net Neutrality."


It seems strange to say this, but the NAACP and Urban League, as well as many other Black and Latino groups, are siding with Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and other corporate giants in arguing that these companies should have the rate to do as they see fit regarding the Internet. They are actually making the case it better serves low income, working people, Blacks, Latinos, senior citizens, students and others in their constituencies by having large firms,  whose sole mandate is the bottom line, determining without any regulatory incentives or guidelines the fate of their broadband customers



The ugly element here is many of these companies also are big money donors to these groups, a fact that makes it look as if their support has been bought. This charge makes people like David Honig, President of the Minority and Media Telecommunications Council, quite angry. Honig told the Huffington Post/Black Voices he was very disappointed anyone would think his group was for sale, and that the money they got from various cable and phone companies had nothing whatsoever to do with their stance. He also said they have opposed these companies on other matters, though he didn't specify what those positions or issues were.


Maybe he's right, and these Civil Rights organizations truly think giving Verizon or AT&T or Comcast free reign to do whatever they want as broadband providers is in the best interest of Black and poor people. But it'[s hard for me to believe that the $725,000 that the Council received in donations between 2009 and 2011 from Time Warner, Verizon and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association had nothing to do with their position, or that the NAACP's outlook on "Net Neutrality" isn't affected by the $1 million dollars plus they got from AT&T. The NAACP later supported AT&T's unsuccessful attempt at acquiring T-Mobile, but they also say that had nothing to do with any funds they received.


It's not like these donations aren't going for good causes. Whether it's helping pay staffers, providing funds for lobbying on various issues, or expanding literacy and educational opportunities for Blacks and Latinos, no one questions that a lot of commendable things are being aided by corporate donations. But it's also impossible for these Civil Rights organization to then appear objective on key issues that can have a negative impact on corporations partially funding them.


Not every Civil Rights group opposes the President on this issue. Both the Color of Change and The Center for Media Justice are outspoken in backing "Net Neutrality," and urging that the FCC step in and regulate things, preventing corporations from unilaterally creating "fast" lanes and sliding scales that put certain speeds at higher prices. They argue it is critical for communities of color to maintain equal broadband and Internet access, and say the track record of corporations in regards to media issues is such no one should believe they won't exploit the Internet for their own greed if not stopped by regulatory agencies.


Surveys already show there is a general gap in Internet access between the Black community and the white one, though it is narrowing thanks to the surge in mobile phone usage, especially among younger Blacks. But there are still major problems with ensuring computer service throughout public schools, especially those located in urban areas, and broadband/Internet access being equally available at reasonable prices in all homes, regardless of location.


Anyone who's seen how such companies as AT&T with its U-Verse service, or the difference in service Comcast and Charter for example offer folks depending on where they live, knows corporations don't do anything not in their best interest unless forced to do so. It is baffling Civil Rights groups would believe any cable or phone giant would operate as good servants rather than profiteers. While I'm glad they got money from these corporations that kept their doors open and staffs working, hopefully they will ultimately take the side of those they're supposed to represent, rather than those whose sole interest is how much more they can charge for improved Internet access. 

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