How Net Neutrality Impacts People of Color

FCC Proposed Limits to Internet Access Will Limit the Voices of Marginalized Communities
Dyan Ruiz, Joseph Smooke | 09/15/2014


Steven Renderos, Center for Media Justice, National Organizer: Whether the fight is against immigration and deportation or whether it’s police brutality the internet provides a place for marginalized communities to mobilize our voices, while we’re mobilizing on the street, but also creating a level of solidarity in our struggles online.

Dyan Ruiz, [people.power. media], Reporter: Disruptive changes to internet access are likely if the FCC doesn’t reclassify the internet as a public utility. How is this going to impact people of color, low-income people and other marginalized communities? At stake are regulations that would allow internet service providers to charge extra for priority treatment.

Renderos: What it would do is give companies, corporations like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon the power to turn around and say to websites, if you want to reach your customer faster cut a deal with us and we’ll let you reach that customer faster, so essentially creating fast lanes. But when you create that fast lane, inherently when you create that fast lane, you also create that slow lane, and everybody else, most of us would be relegated to that slow lane. And it would be only those websites that are in a position to pay that premium who would get access to that fast lane.

Ruiz: Although past rulings have made this two-tiered system of internet access already legal, internet service providers haven’t actually rolled out these changes yet. So what we’ve had is what people call an “open internet” or “net neutrality”– you can access all content with the same speed.

Renderos: The internet has been the actual equal level playing field where, you know, an idea, a blog, a campaign can reach just as many people as a mainstream website. And we’ve seen examples of that here in Oakland, California. When we saw Johannes Mehserle who killed Oscar Grant, a key piece of evidence in that case was that video that was shot on a cellphone and uploaded to YouTube, and then watched by millions of people. That’s what the internet has the potential to do for communities of color, for marginalized communities, is really expose and shine a light on the struggles of our communities because our mainstream media system isn’t really reflective of those experiences.

Ruiz: Mehserle is the first police officer in California history to be convicted, sentenced and serve time in an on-duty shooting.

More recently, in the aftermath of 18-year-old Michael Brown being shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri independent media and citizen journalists publishing online have created popular opposition to the official statements by police.

People are worried that the changes to the internet would make the internet as hard to access as cable TV or mainstream radio, which have historically shutout ownership and representation of marginalized communities. Harrison Chastang is a DJ with one of the few independent radio stations in the Bay Area, KPOO.

Harrison Chastang, KPOO Poor People’s Radio, News Director: In San Francisco, you have almost 80 stations and almost all of them are controlled by three or four different entities.

You just have this consolidation so that you only have a certain point of view. And if something is happening out there that doesn’t reflect the corporate point of view, then you don’t hear it.

With news and information, we often play video clips from independent producers, independent film makers, people who are posting on YouTube. We have some folks who were in Ferguson, Missouri to protest and we were able to play those clips on the air. And to play them on the air you need a fast internet connection.

Ruiz: KPOO has been on the cutting edge of music since its founding in 1971, being among the first radio stations in the US to have programs dedicated to rap, reggae and blues. Access to a digital library means they can continue to support cultural expression and innovation.

Chastang: With the advent of digital technology, we have access to digital musical libraries where there are millions and millions of tracks from virtually every artist on the plane, so if someone wants to play something they can go to the internet and play it. But to play it we have to have a fast internet speed.

And as far as listeners are concerned, we need a certain level of capacity and internet speed to send our signal up to our server.

Conversely if our listeners have to deal with a two-tiered internet stream, they won’t be able to listen to KPOO because they will be relegated to the slowest speed.

Ruiz: Right now KPOO pays a flat rate to reach an unlimited number of online listeners. They’re worried that internet service providers will tell them only a certain number can listen, unless they pay more.

Groups that do on the ground organizing of Latino, Black and other marginalized communities, like Causa Justa :: Just Cause, are worried about how a two-tiered internet system would impact them.

Adam Gold, Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Finance & Communications Director: Over the last few years, we’ve seen a lot of our members using email, using cell phone data more and more. And so more and more, it’s been a tool that we’ve used to communicate with them about urgent actions, about regular meetings and activities. it would be pretty damaging for that tool that mostly our communities are getting to use more regularly to be taken away. Even though that’s not our main mode of communication with people right now, it’s a growing one, and it’s one that we’re excited about.

We’ve seen around the world, internet communication has really facilitated a lot of social transformation, and we’re hoping that happens more and more in the US and the communities we serve. It makes sense that some of the power structure would then be looking at ways to diminish that access.

Ruiz: On the flip side, internet service providers like Comcast have said that any further regulation by the FCC would deter them from investing in innovation and increased access to rural or underserved areas.

But the US is already one of the most expensive countries in the world to access the internet, and it is also one of the slowest. This is despite deregulation in 2002 under former President George W. Bush, which was supposed to make the internet faster and cheaper. And companies could tap into the 7 billion dollars in stimulus funds to expand broadband access created in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

So what’s the solution? Many advocates for an open internet want broadband to be regulated as a public utility, or have “Title II” classification under FCC regulations. For other revolutionary technologies like electricity and telephones, the government created programs to expand access to rural and underserved communities.

Renderos: I think the myth that gets perpetuated is that these private corporations that they are the benevolent corporate good force that will eventually they will do it. They just need the resources to do it. That’s not true. They actually need strong regulations to force them to do it. Otherwise they won’t. It’ll never be in their economic interest to build out to a small community in Minnesota. And so therefore the government needs to play a role in ensuring that those communities don’t get left out.

Ruiz: This is Dyan Ruiz for People Power Media.

[people. power. media] submitted this Video Report as a Comment to the FCC on September 15, 2014.

Submission to FCC
Submission to FCC