This practice has already started, due to the way the Open Internet Order has for too long arbitrarily treated the mobile Web as distinct from fixed-line access. There is no defensible technology or policy rationale for regulating the Internet differently depending on the device one uses to access it, and now that smartphones have become near-ubiquitous, the insidious effect of the FCC’s giveaway to wireless companies has become apparent to their tens of millions of subscribers.
And with that in mind, last week the civil rights organization I lead, ColorOfChange.org, spoke directly with the FCC’s new chair, Tom Wheeler, and agency staff at a rare town-hall meeting in Oakland, Calif., where community members and activists gathered to share their stories of how FCC policymaking directly impacts their lives. I told Chairman Wheeler that maintaining access to the free and open Internet is critical to reaching our 900,000 members and amplifying their voices on the issues most impacting black and brown families and communities. I told him that protecting the open Internet is not just a regulatory issue but also a civil rights issue: Many times in the past, marginalized and exploited communities such as those we represent have looked to independent agencies like the FCC to defend our fundamental rights.
Chairman Wheeler will be under pressure from the telecom and cable giants to fulfill at least part of their agenda. But his agency is there to serve the public interest, not the corporate bottom line, so it is vital that we, the public, remind him of that fact and push him to be a champion for the people he represents.
At another stop on his California listening tour, Wheeler said that an open Internet is essential to the continuing drive for “innovation without permission”—that’s right. But the agency has a lot of work ahead to realize this vision, and it is vital that we hold his feet to the fire.
The behavior of Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and the other major corporations seeking to control what we see and do online is nothing less than a threat to our democracy. We need to make our voices heard as loudly as possible, or risk losing the most powerful arena there is for raising those voices in the first place.
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Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization. Follow ColorOfChange.org on Twitter.