Minorities Voice 'Neutrality’ Fears

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Groups representing minority legislators and other public officials expressed to the White House and Congress their concerns about the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed expansion and codification of network-neutrality principles.

On the same day that the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council held a conference in Washington on broadband and social justice, the groups circulated a letter they were sending to the president and the Hill calling on them to intervene in a rulemaking they warn could widen the digital divide rather than close it.

The Jan. 22 letters came from the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, National Foundation for Women Legislators, National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, National Conference of Black Mayors and the National Association of Black County Officials.

The groups called closing the digital divide “one of the most pressing social and civil rights issue of our day.”

They asked President Obama to intercede to keep the FCC focused on a broadband plan that closes that divide and does not include any new rules they say could threaten that end.

While they said they were “enthusiastic supporters” of an open Internet — a point that both sides of the debate usually concede — they said they were “concerned that some of the net regulations currently being contemplated by the FCC lend themselves to the creation of unmanaged networks that would increase consumer costs, hinder new job creation, diminish service quality and reduce broadband adoption and use, particularly among the underserved.”

They also said they supported transparency and rules that prohibit discrimination against legal content.

These and similar groups have raised network-neutrality concerns before, including with the FCC, arguing that if the rules are a disincentive to investment in broadband by the private companies that must do most of the investing to get the Internet to underserved communities, their constituencies could suffer.

“[Many] civil-rights advocates fear [new Internet regulations] could impede broadband adoption and could, instead, lead to increased digital disenfranchisement of our nation’s minority and low-income communities,” they said Friday.

Some network neutrality rule activists have countered that the groups were making those arguments for communications company contributors, which led to counter-charges of racism and paternalism and, eventually, a ratcheting back of the rhetoric.

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