President Obama strongly supports net neutrality, and so do most members of the FCC. With so much at stake for black communities, you would expect black leaders and civic organizations to line up in support of an open Internet. Think again.
Many of our nation’s leading civil rights groups — like the NAACP, the National Urban League and LULAC — and influential members of the Congressional Black Caucus have signed on to letters and made statements that have had the effect of supporting AT&T, Verizon and Comcast in their efforts to kill net neutrality. In some cases, the leaders and groups don’t seem to understand the actual issues in play or don’t know how they are being used. In others it seems to be a matter of long-standing relationships or the need to maintain the flow of corporate dollars.
AT&T and Verizon have been in our communities for years. They have provided jobs and have done a great job hiring and promoting black workers. They have provided millions of dollars to community institutions and programs. That has earned them a degree of trust with many organizations that have now gone to bat for them, even though these companies do not have a good record of making sure their core services are affordable or accessible to those with low incomes or in remote areas.
AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have also all given generously to political campaigns. In turn, they have received a great deal of support from those members of Congress they’ve backed. In addition, they have contributed millions of dollars to civil rights organizations — with these same organizations signing on to letters that echo the positions of the communications industry.
They’ve even propped up front groups like the Alliance for Digital Equality, Broadband for America and the Internet Innovation Alliance — organizations with no constituency or real membership — to create a chorus of black people and others to make their arguments, with notable figures like former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and former Rep. Harold Ford lending their brands to the cause.
And these companies have pushed a bogus argument that plays on the reality of the digital divide. They’ve sold the idea that if they have their way and are able to do away with net neutrality, they’ll take the additional profits they make and suddenly invest in our communities where they traditionally haven’t (despite already seeing profit margins as high as 80 percent). It’s a cynical trickle-down argument that defies the basic logic of how businesses operate. Even so, it’s become a talking point for several civil rights advocates and groups.