Lee Fang has an important new story at The Intercept on how some major not-for-profits that present themselves a stalwart defenders of civil rights are acting as anything but that.
Phone and cable providers have had net neutrality in their crosshairs since the early 2000s. In the past, they’ve been beaten back by determined and well-organized efforts of what are mainly small fry: the content providers who stand to lose out in a world where connectivity providers can meter service speeds by website and their allies in the tech community and academia. In that Brave New World, big media, shopping, and entertainment sites would be able to afford to pay to play to have snappy, or at least adequate, download speeds, and small fry would be strangled. This would have the effect of reinforcing the existing tendencies to monopoly and oligopoly in a whole range of activities, and with it, the ability to extract rents.
And who is fighting hard for the right of the pipelines to squeeze newbies and niche players at the expense of the behemoths, reducing diversity and effectively, freedom of expression? None other than some soi disant civil rights groups that get big bucks from telcos. But they are doing it in a sneaky way that they may have hoped would not be understood by the rubes their nominal clientele.
The Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission established net neutrality by reclassifying high-speed internet as a regulated phone-like telecommunications service, as opposed to a mostly unregulated information service. The re-classification was cheered by advocates for a free and open internet.
But now Trump’s new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney, is pushing to repeal the net neutrality reform by rolling back that re-classification — and he’s getting help not only from a legion of telecom lobbyists, but from civil rights groups.
In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.
Instead of classifying broadband as a public utility, the letter states, open internet rules should be written by statute. What does that mean? It means the Republican-led Congress should take control of the process — the precise approach that is favored by industry…
Last week’s letter was organized by the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry that has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon.
MMTC, which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists, has been accused of “astroturf lobbying” by creating the appearance of grassroots support for the industry.
Fang goes through the litany of excuses made for this sellout, for instance, that the net neutrality fight diverts resources from more important battles, like increasing minority employment in the tech industry. If you accept that claim, then why weigh in on either side?
All you need to do is follow the money:
The NAACP, which signed letters opposing net neutrality both times the rule was proposed by the Obama administration, has named AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast as corporate fundraising partners. After the NAACP endorsed Comcast’s merger with NBC, Comcast disclosed that the NAACP was one of the the recipients of $1.8 billion in funds doled out to various community groups…
The National Urban League received $1.2 million from Verizon in 2014 alone. As the Center for Public Integrity reported, senior officials from AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have held positions on the National Urban League’s board.
If you’ve donated money to these groups, please consider redirecting your giving to other organizations that defend minority groups without being stooges to the big phone players. And tell the organizations in question, sooner rather than later, that they’ve lost your support due to their stance on net neutrality. Please circulate the Fang article or this post to let friends and colleagues know about this sellout.