Net Equality Needed as Much as Net Neutrality

by Kim Keenan on December 10, 2014

The following article by MMTC President and CEO Kim Keenan originally appeared on BlackPressUSA.

Net Neutrality Net Equality Connect InternetThe future of the Internet is a hot topic these days. The key issue is what is the right approach to regulate the Internet, where applications are developed, music is shared and people are constantly communicating with one another in real time. At the same time, how do we best expand investment and innovation in the Internet’s infrastructure so that we can sufficiently serve rural communities, urban schools and other groups within our communities that are underserved?

Policymakers, from the White House to Congress, are currently debating four approaches to regulating the Internet: (1) Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that broadband service is available to “all Americans;” (2) Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which would reclassify broadband as a public utility; (3) no regulation; or (4) a hybrid approach that would classify Internet service providers (ISPs) as public utilities, but maintain the services of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Verizon and others, under Section 706. 

Civil rights and a host of labor organizations that include my organization, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC); the National Urban League, the NAACP, Rainbow PUSH, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and others have urged the FCC to rely on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Communities of color disproportionately lack access to high speed broadband, which is where homework, job applications, and social justice issues are rooted.

Section 706 offers the best opportunity for innovation, investment, and universal broadband adoption. Moreover, this approach provides oversight in a manner that would encourage investment, job creation, deployment, and adoption of broadband. At MMTC, we also advocate adding consumer-friendly protections to Section 706 that include compliance mechanisms that can be imported from Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This approach would ensure that every consumer, without the burden of attorney fees or extensive knowledge of telecommunications, can file a complaint and receive a response from the FCC.

The other choices create more problems than they solve or simply take us backwards, which is the wrong direction for cutting-edge technology. Title II reclassification would discourage broadband network investment and slow down deployment. A Title II scheme, whether alone or as a hybrid, would require the FCC to determine which portions of the obsolete 1934 law fail in a modern world. Tellingly, few arguments mention that Title II regulation will likely include new taxes. Check your public utility bills and see if they include additional taxes beyond the service provided.

A hybrid of Title II and Section 706, still raises the probability of higher costs to the consumer while no regulation is less than the status quo. The things that most of the “open Internet” advocates seem to be so concerned about, i.e., blocking access, throttling traffic, and harmful paid priority, are already regulated by Section 706.

Title II reclassification is based on obsolete telephone regulation dating back to 1934. Title II would cause a decrease in the billions of dollars of investment by ISPs. This is not about trickle down investment, but the actual accrual of value in broadband deployment in communities of color, schools, and rural communities.

Right now, the Internet is at its current healthy state and has created 945,000 jobs for workers of color in the broadband sector with an overall ‘app economy’ that supports another 750,000 jobs per year beginning with the Clinton Administration.

As National Urban League President Marc H. Morial has stated, our goal should be regulations that will provide consumer protections and an open Internet while not killing broadband deployment and jobs.

Like the National Urban League, MMTC wants Internet neutrality, but more than that, we want Internet equality. In a July 18 joint letter to the FCC, several groups, including the National Urban League, NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and the National Action Network, asked the FCC to facilitate “full and complete high-quality broadband deployment to communities of color” without “[r]edlining and exclusion of any sort[.]”

We know that broadband deployment and technology innovation create jobs, and investment of this nature is critical to bridging the 20:1 racial wealth gap and to reducing the staggering unemployment levels that plague communities of color. That’s why we also urged the FCC to adopt a “strong focus … to ensure that all minority businesses, entrepreneurs, and workers are given meaningful opportunities to participate in the build out of high-speed networks and the innovation of the Internet economy.” The Communications Workers of America and the NAACP, in their July 15 FCC rulemaking comments, agreed, adding that the FCC “must ensure that there is sufficient future investment and job creation to propel not only economic opportunity, but a permanent bridging of the digital divide in the homes of people of color and rural locales.”

Finding a way to preserve the open Internet, while also preserving the investment and innovation generated from the online economy will generate job growth, equal opportunity, and access to high-speed broadband for all Americans. Net equality is the balance that puts consumers and communities first.

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