Save Net Neutrality! It enables women and people of color to thrive online and amplify their own stories—uncensored and on their own terms
As someone who lives in San Antonio, and who is also a digital inclusion advocate, I think of net neutrality as comparable to access to water. Right now in the United States, water and Internet access are both classified as utilities. This means that all consumers must have the same access to all services available. Not free water, or free Internet, just the same access to the same services.
I hope that most of us can agree that easily accessible, clean water flowing to our homes is essential to our everyday life. We don’t expect people in certain neighborhoods to walk several blocks on a dirt road to fill their buckets from a shared water barrel. During the late 1800s in San Antonio, this was a reality for some municipal residents, mostly women of color who would line up to fill their buckets with contaminated water delivered by aguadores, while other people, mostly white and wealthy, lived in homes with pumps and modern plumbing delivering clean water.
Fast-forward several decades. Affordable, high-speed connections to Internet services allow doctors to use telemedicine to treat seniors aging in place, enables those seeking work to apply for employment, and permits children to study from home. It also facilitates activists, change makers, artists, and marginalized people to connect with each other and claim a public voice. From job opportunities, to medicinal and educational services, to social change, without net neutrality, Internet service providers would be able to block people from viewing content, slow down Internet speeds, and increase rates without restrictions.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to classify broadband Internet as a telecommunication service under Title II of the Communications Act and required it to be regulated like a utility. So just like those who provide water, those who provide paid access to the Internet are prohibited from blocking or slowing down access.
This week, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC will decide whether or not to dismantle these rules that define and protect the Internet. Under Pai’s plan, Internet services would be regulated more like cable and cell phone services. Broadband companies would be able to go from charging a single fee to access the Internet to charging on a tiered basis, with greater access costing more. The services offered and the cost of those services would be different depending on where you live.
In July, Voices for Internet Freedom, a coalition of organizations advocating for the digital rights of communities of color, filed comments with the FCC to maintain the strong net neutrality protections it adopted in 2015. The proposal to roll back rules that protect an open Internet for all has been met with enormous opposition from the public and private sectors. Everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the American Association of Retired Persons to disability rights groups to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as some of the best-known names in technology, have all come out against the FCC’s proposal.
Open Internet access has enabled women and people of color of all ages to thrive online because they’re able to amplify their own stories uncensored and on their own terms. Under the proposed FCC rules, rolling back the freedoms afforded by net neutrality would result in ISPs having the power to silence dissenting voices, cutting them off from reaching other online users. If you believe communication rights are human rights, then segregating communities and individuals from one another and forcing them to pay more and ask for permission in order to communicate with one another is a violation of a fundamental right.
For low-income communities, for women, for people of color, when all web-based content is treated equally, and two-way communication over the Internet is free from discrimination, these historically underserved communities are empowered and our voices are heard. Without a free and open Internet, #BlackLivesMatter, and the organizations that represent these communities, would not have been able to launch a movement with a single hashtag exposing police brutality and social injustices within communities nationwide. In 2009 a Latino-led online petition led to the removal of a CNN news show hosted by Lou Dobbs, who regularly used his airtime to blame immigrants for an array of social problems and amplified conspiracy theories to racially divide viewing audiences. Just last week, the voices of the #MeToo movement were named Time magazine’s 2017 person Person of the Year for using the power of the Internet to denounce the enormity of sexual abuse and harassment. This is the power that emerges when online communications are leveraged to transform personal stories into social change.
An open Internet is the most democratizing tool of our time. We've seen the positive impact created by women and people of color who use the Internet to fight for racial, gender, and economic justice — fairness in policies, procedures, programs, and the distribution of resources. An open Internet that promotes fairness and protects the distribution of information is the first and only mass communications platform in modern technology to empower underserved communities with the essential communication tools needed for education, employment, health care, and civic engagement.
Repealing net neutrality would not only harm women and people of color, it would diminish the communication rights of all Internet users. Throughout the United States, everyone deserves access to a fast, affordable, and open Internet. This is why we must fight to keep network neutrality in place.
Leaders in the fight for net neutrality are encouraging people to visit Battle the Internet to sign a petition and to call 1-888-CALL-FCC before the vote on Thursday, December 14. Tell the FCC you don't want ISPs to have the power to block websites, slow them down, give some sites an advantage over others, split the Internet into "fast lanes" for companies that pay and "slow lanes" for the rest, or force people to buy special "tiers" to access the sites and services we choose.
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