“Civil Rights Groups” Throw Public Under the Bus on Net Neutrality for Their Big Telco Donors

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.

As Fang explains:

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.

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  1. danny

    FWIW, the groups’ letter is correct that net neutrality needs to be written into statute and until then could be rolled back simply by the Commission going back through the rulemaking process and reclassifying internet services. Of course, it may be harder for the next administration to reverse course.
    Note that I’m not naive to what a GOP-led Congress will likely do, but I am hopeful that they may actually listen to their constituents. We routinely list many of the telecoms as their most hated companies. This year, Comcast is rated worst of the worst. AT&T should have been there IMHO.
    The Communications Act is well overdue to be replaced with a statute that regulates based on the layers of the network stack. Almost all communications, regardless of the channel used, is now done over Internet protocol networks. Convergence of technologies and devices has blurred and largely erased many of the distinctions between broadcast and cable TV, DSL, telephone services, and wireless services. One day we’ll get there.

    1. different clue

      In digispherian terms, this logic could well be impeccable. But I am not a digispherian. I am but an analog refugee lost in this new digital world. And the only logic I know is the brutal analog logic of real meatspace reality.

      And according the the brutal logic of meatspace reality, this letter from NAACP and the others is designed to get the Republican Congress to pass a law destroying Net Neutrality now, and making sure that Net Neutrality stays destroyed for ever and ever. The beautiful digitopian perfecto-law you advocate will never be considered. Never. Ever. Ever.

      So brutal meatspace logic compels me to agree with this article and dismiss your beautiful vision as a shiny squirrel-object which will divide us and dilute our strength as we desperately try to save Citizen Internet Access from the Evil Telcos and Commercial Content Excretors and their Wicked Henchfilth in the Civil Wrongs Organizations.

  2. allan

    Reply to
    February 15, 2017 at 4:07 am

    ” hopeful that they may actually listen to their constituents ”

    Good luck with that. As people discovered while trying to express to Congress their opinions on the cabinet nominations, Congressional phone lines are busy and the voice mail boxes are full, emails are treated like SPAM, district offices are often unapproachable, and the unhappiness about the ACA repeal at recent constituent events is attributed by the GOP to outside agitators. See: … Republicans running away from their constituents [WaPo]

    Shame on the NAACP, et al. for giving them cover.

  3. Eureka Springs

    Net neutrality has always been confined to the narrowest of meanings to a point of being self-defeating by simply self-kettling ourselves into such limited fights/expectations. I know you coastal and big city elites (that’s half snark) will never understand much more empathize or rally with us flyover deplorables who are limited to 10 gigs a month no matter what provider we use, no matter how much we pay. I recently read that most homes with fiber now utilize over a thousand gigs a month… that one HD movie can be much more bandwidth than my entire monthly 70 bucks can buy.

    Over twenty years ago the entire U.S. should have established high speed affordable unlimited fiber to every home on the grid… and that’s where the argument should be today. It covers the neutrality issue and so, so very much more. And it is far more inclusive of many more people who would benefit in so many ways. It’s way past time to remove the internet highway system. Separate the content providers, the monitors, data mining, from the public highway system itself. That’s where the beginning of neutrality should begin.

    So yes, point out the most egregious hypocrites in the misleadership class, but don’t let them all win by keeping us divided and losing within the extremely limited confines of their argument.

    1. oh

      Among the many promises that Barry broke was the one to provide hi speed internet. One grifter follows another!
      We the people need to set some discrete goals and protest. Calling or writing to the Congress critters will not work. We need to storm their office on behalf each issue.

    2. Sally

      “Separate the content providers, the monitors, data mining, from the public highway system itself. That’s where the beginning of neutrality should begin.”

      That is the key point.

      Trump would be an idiot if he allowed the likes of Google/UTube, Facebook, big tech boys to be able to start rigging the content because his campaign relied hugely on the Internet. A lot of his support by-passed the traditional TV/Newspaper media. I heard that Twitter are apparantly using ways and means to make his Twitter acccount only see hostile responses for the first 100 or so responses. Have no idea if that’s true but some of these firms are getting very close to utility status.

      Anti trust laws should be wheeled out. They are already on the books.

    3. likbez

      Companies such as Netflix are essentially subsidized by telecom providers. So this is a model that somewhat reminds me of Uber.

      The same is true for Google (especially YouTube part of it) and Facebook. When somebody tries to download 4.7Gb movie that affects other people on the same subnet,

      On the other hand if, for example, popular blogs are forced to pay per gigabyte of consumed bandwidth, that is as close to censorship as we can get. 1000 gigabytes per month that is consumed by a medium site even at $1 per gigabyte is $1000 per month rent. And guess who will be able to afford it.

      There are a lot complex nuances here. For example, everybody who use wireless at home are not in the same group as who are using landlines (fiber or cable) even if they live in metropolitan areas. They are closer to flyover country residents.

      Also as soon as something is not metered some sophisticated forms of abuse emerge. For example, some corporations are abusing public networks by switching to “home office” model which dramatically cuts the required office and parking space. Several corporations built their new headquarters with the assumption that only half of employees are present at any given day (so called hotel model). When employees view some clueless corporate video conference via VPN that affects their neighborhood the same way as heavy Netflix users. Excessive WebEx videoconferences have a similar effect.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Haha, yes! I love that Eureka Springs is unhappy about 10 GB downloads. I am on Verizon copper and get only 7!. The speed is dreadful but since I don’t stream movies, I can deal. I’m not about to go to cable because it has more downtime. If I worked during the days, I could just run to a coffee shop, but no connectivity at night when I need to post is a killer.

        1. PhilM

          I’m guessing Eureka is talking about total data cap (10 gigabits total in the month), about 2 movies, because of being on a wireless connection. You are wired, and probably effectively uncapped–but, being on copper, you have poor data bandwidth, or “flow” (I think that is what you mean by 7 Mbps, or Mega-bits-per-second).

          From observing internet use up close, because of local bandwidth “issues,” I have seen families with one teen suddenly go from 40 GB per month to 500 GB per month, probably because they discovered a new series to binge-stream. That is still only half the Comcast cap–but in a year or so, average families will be bumping up against that cap constantly, and Comcast will start to collect the premium.

          Nevertheless, cable is the way to go. Impressive performance improvements, and the downtime is minimal. With a business account, for not much more money, you get a service-level agreement with guaranteed reliability. And if it becomes unreliable, you can maintain a low-speed economy copper line as a backup–it is fully deductible, so after taxes, that’s no more than a few bus-rides a month.

    4. different clue

      The Net Neutrality assassin-wannabes hope to turn the internet of today into the Infocommercial SuperSewer of their dreams. If they succeed, and then you get the big bandwidth you desire, and the only thing that comes over on all that bandwidth is Infocommercial SuperSewage . . . will you then be happy?

      I live in flyover country too. But I live in one of those University Cities sprinkled here and there in flyover country. And I work at a Mighty Midwestern Fortress of Academic Medicine. In my permitted spare time on our University Hospital ComputerNet Systems, I can still get lots of stuff that hasn’t yet been assassinated by the assassination of Net Neutrality which hasn’t yet happened. Our wonder lotsa-data network won’t mean much if all we get over it is the same InfoCommerical SuperSewage that you will get in a Net SuperSewage Biased world. The fact that we (I) will be able to get more of it faster than you will . . . will be of no consolation to us (me).

  4. Quanka

    +1 to Eureka Springs.

    Go back to Bill Clinton’s administration when Verizon was a fledgling company and the government gave massive subsidies to the Telecoms to do exactly what Eureka Springs notes: bring fast, reliable internet service across the country. Fast forward to today — those companies took all the subsidies, didn’t build out shit for network capacity, and now spend all their money lobbying to give themselves more power and limit net neutrality.

    If there were a microcosm for this whole problem, this is it. Dems give big subsidies to corporate players, dont track the work/take for granted that they “did something” and then get caught flat footed. Now we are all left to battle it out for the scraps. Exactly where we were 20 years ago.

    Watching the Oroville Dam, juxtaposing with all this “infrastructure spending” talk — everyone should be weary b/c we’ve been here before with Telecoms.

    1. cocomaan

      +1 to both of you!

      It reminds me of the land grant system that enabled the railroad industry to thrive.

      Guess what happened to Southern Pacific Railroad Company, who benefited greatly from this government intervention? Later, they turned into Sprint (Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony)!

  5. Scott

    I really wish I could get more worked up about Net Neutrality, but I can’t. I’m deeply concerned about the high prices and lack of availability in much of the country, but I find that much of the debate boils down to conflict between Silicon Valley and the Telcos about who controls the internet. Content providers (Facebook, Google, Netflix) want to use the network effects to manipulate public opinion in their favored version of Net Neutrality, which seems to involve universal unmetered broadband, which ISPs must build out to meet demand, shifting costs from the providers to the ISPs, while profits go the other way. Meanwhile the ISPs do the tricks described in the post and overchange customers for poor service. I have little sympathy for either group.

    My general belief is that broadband should be cheap, universal, regulated, and, yes, metered. The latter would encourage high volume users and content providers to change their behavior and technology to use bandwidth more efficiently, which would reduce the size of the infrastructure needed over the long-term. I would also include search neutrality at the same time, but for some reason that doesn’t have the same level of support among the technology industry.

    1. djrichard

      One thing to keep in mind. The less bandwidth you provide, the more you can charge for tolls on top of it.

      1. myxzptlk


        Scarcity is the basis for all highly profitable rent-seeking. That, not “balanced budgets” or “hyperinflation concerns” is the main driver behind fiscal austerity.

    2. Daryl

      The real problem is not that various internet companies might be subject to juiced-up competition from telecoms. The problem is that many small websites and businesses may suffer from this as well. Consider Facebook’s internet.org which provides access to something like only 100 websites. Without net neutrality, they could not only cripple their immediate financial competitors but silence dissent as well.

      Also, I’m not sure where the unmetered stuff is coming from. I’m pretty sure most of the arguments are that internet should not be preferentially metered or throttled, i.e. you can’t let people use unlimited bandwith on Verizon’s Netflix ripoff or whatever, and then turn around and throttle Netflix traffic to where it’s unusable after somebody streams 5 minutes of video.

    3. different clue

      Do you feel any sympathy for yourself or the rest of the readers here who benefit from Naked Capitalism? Because under the SuperSewage Net Bias system which the Civil Wrongs Organizations are accepting money to shill for and pimp for, the Infocommercial SuperSewage Pipe Lords will figure out how to drive Naked Capitalism all the way “off the air” entirely.

    4. JTFaraday

      The way I see it, sexy Silicon Valley is freeloading and the “dumb pipes” companies don’t extend better coverage to less populated areas. I’m sure there’s a deficit neutral solution in there somewhere.

  6. Katharine

    What adds insult to injury is that these organizations surely know that Verizon for one does not even provide FIOS service in a lot of city neighborhoods. For the NAACP, with headquarters in Baltimore, to take money to help a company that refuses to serve some of its own staff and much of its ostensible constituency, is simply disgusting, even before you get to the effects of not supporting net neutrality.

    1. polecat

      Remember to call and complain, vociferously, to your Dist. Senate Ferengi, who you all keep voting back into office !!!!!

      ‘Sigh’ …….

      might as well give em the whole damn planet – they grift most of it for their own benefit as it is !

      This has been an equal opportunity Ferengi message ….


    Dissenting view on this: while taking corporate money is always a bad sign, and this may be a front for a backdoor move that still gives the telecoms some or most of what they want, the letter itself states:

    A statute locking in net neutrality would protect net neutrality no matter how the political winds blow.

    That doesn’t sound like they want to get rid of net neutrality. It sounds like they want it ensured via a more permanent vehicle than through the FCC’s classification rules. So it’s an argument against exactly the sort of neoliberal incrementalism that is treated as a mortal sin of the Democrats around here.

    1. WhiteyLockmandoubled


      FCC has the power to determine the issue. They are preparing to regulate. Congress is not going to do shit to protect net neutrality, and every signatory to that letter knows it.

      If HHS were preparing to eliminate Medicaid expansion through regulation, we could all write a letter in support because a lot of the rest of the ACA sucks, and throw in a sentence saying:

      “a statute locking in fully-funded Medicare for All would protect our right to health care no matter how the political winds blow,” And it would still be total bullshit, a letter encouraging the elimination of health insurance for 13 million poor people, because this Congress is no more going to pass single payer than it is going to protect net neutrality, than I am going to flap my arms and fly to the moon.

        1. different clue

          Where? Right there in the letter and in the CONTEXT of the letter and in WHO it is being sent to and in WHO paid for the letter.

          You can’t see it? It’s hiding in plain sight, right there ON the letter.

          You still can’t see it?

          “Put the damn glasses on!”

    2. different clue

      The letter is a masterpiece of “non-requestal requestal” . . . in the spirit of Richard M. Nixon’s “non-denial denials”.

      The authors of that letter know very well that the current Congress and President will pass and sign a law assassinating Net Neutrality and assassinating the FCC’s future ability to ever re-regulate for any trace of it whatsoever. So their pretense of wanting “a stature locking in net neutrality” to “protect net neutrality no matter how the political winds blow” . . . is textbook-perfect duplicity and utter bad faith on their part. They actually want to enable the Congress to pass and get signed a statute locking in SuperSewage Net Bias and preVENting the re-establishment of net neutrality no matter how the political winds blow.

      They know exactly the real underhanded devious purpose behind the letter which they hide under their deceitfully unintended language about “protect net neutrality” by “statute” no matter “how the political winds blow”.

      Remember, these are the same filth which supported Clinton. And you trust anything they say or do about any internet matter whatsoever . . . . the least little bit at all? Especially considering who it is they have hustled for money in order to write this letter on behalf of?

  8. sgt_doom

    I think two excellent books which sum it all up are:

    Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, by Joan Roelofs

    Dark Money, by Jane Mayer

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