WASHINGTON - Civil rights advocates are sounding the alarm after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to overturn Obama-era rules that require the Internet to be regulated like a utility.
Alfredo Lopez, founder of the social justice technology firm May First/People Link, says the 2015 decision ensures that all Americans - regardless of race, religion or economic status - can make their voices heard. "And that's what net neutrality protects," he points out. "When that goes, the whole idea of you being able to tell your story, that goes down the drain - it's finished - because the larger providers, with their greater amount of money, can now drown you out."
Pai has called the rules "a solution in search of a problem," and maintains regulation depresses investment in broadband networks. Nearly 4 million people submitted comments in favor of net neutrality, a term for a free and open Internet. According to a recent survey, almost 80 percent of Americans want the rules kept in place, including 73 percent of Republicans. Mignon Clyburn, the FCC's only black commissioner, has called net neutrality "the First Amendment for the Internet." Lopez explains without protections, large providers such as Comcast and Verizon would be able to create fast lanes for content providers who can pay extra, and slower speeds for everyone else.
Lopez worries that only people who already support groups such as Black Lives Matter would wait for a slower website to load. "But the people who might be recruited to that movement, that's where the problem is," he states. "Because they are dealing with a limited amount of time, and various interests are competing for that time."
Social justice groups have launched campaigns to keep open Internet protections in place. One is the Center for Media Justice, which argues that the rights to speak and be heard, to seek opportunity, stay connected and protest injustice are core civil rights. The FCC is set to vote on the proposal Dec. 14.