Latino watchdogs and advocacy groups are putting a lot of pressure on the FCC over Net Neutrality and its proposed new Open Internet rules.

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission extended the deadline for its first comment period on the proposed Open Internet rules to Friday, July 18, after getting a public response over Net Neutrality so overwhelming that its website became slow and buggy.

That Friday, the Voices for Internet Freedom coalition -- which is led in part by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and includes several other minority and Latino advocacy groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, ColorOfChange, Latino Rebels, the National Institute for Latino Policy, Common Cause, and the Hispanic Association of College and University, among more than 50 others -- took the extended deadline as an opportunity to come out in favor of the strongest possible framework to protect Net Neutrality.

In the coalition's filing, submitted as an official comment as part of the FCC's public input period, the groups called on the FCC to take the "reclassification" route in reinstating Net Neutrality rules governing telecommunications companies.

Net Neutrality's Strike-down and FCC's Proposed (Partial) Resurrection

In January of this year, a federal court struck down the FCC's ability to enforce its formerly Net Neutrality-friendly Open Internet rules, due to a technicality stemming from the FCC's previous classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as "information services", rather than as "common carriers." The latter designation would allow federal agencies to regulate the ISPs much in the way public utilities like water, gas, and power companies are.

Rather than changing the way it classifies ISPs -- which is part of the FCC's legal authority under Title II of the Communications Act, but which also could invite more court cases and would likely draw political fire from regulation opponents in Congress -- the FCC proposed a weaker and somewhat piecemeal regulatory approach for its Open Internet rules that would allow ISPs greater freedom to self-regulate and give higher tiers of Internet speed, or preferential treatment, to content providers (for a price).

Many Net Neutrality advocates, technology journalists (including yours truly, in an opinion editorial), and members of the general public saw the tiered Internet "fast lane" proposal as the antithesis of Net Neutrality -- which led to the incredible number of comments submitted to the FCC during the past several weeks. That's because Net Neutrality, by its standard definition (as codified in the FCC's previous Open Internet rules), states that ISPs should treat all legal Internet traffic equally and should never block, discriminate against, or give preference to any traffic over others.

Latino Groups to FCC: Reclassify ISPs, Enforce Strongest Net Neutrality

Voices for Internet Freedom reemphasized the public's reaction in their filing, with an emphasis on how the proposed new Open Internet rules could affect minorities and Latinos, in particular.

"Millions have spoken and the message is clear:  Reclassifying Internet Service Providers as common carriers is the only way to ensure that the Internet remains a level playing field for all," said Alex Nogales, the president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). "Without reclassification, the Internet will be subject to the profit-driven whims of the large corporations that control the pipes. This will harm our free speech, activism, civic participation, education and livelihoods, disproportionately impacting Latinos and other communities who have suffered discrimination at the hands of mainstream media."

As we previously reported, executive VP of the NHMC Jessica Gonzalez argued that the January court ruling against the FCC's 2010 Open Internet rules would disempower Latinos and communities of color in favor of "wealthy Internet service providers that are already charging ... an arm and a leg to get online." Gonzalez argued that the setback "could easily be undone. ... All that has to happen is the FCC chairman ... must reclassify broadband providers."

Beyond calling for the FCC to reclassify and regulate broadband ISPs, like cable, fiber optic and DSL, under the strongest interpretation of Net Neutrality, the Voices of Internet Freedom coalition also called for the application of Net Neutrality protections to wireless broadband companies like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

This is an important inclusion by the coalition, which is often overlooked in the Net Neutrality debate. Due to a shortsighted move by the FCC in (yet again), wireless broadband companies were left out of the purview of the 2010 Open Internet rules, which only applied to "fixed broadband providers." This omission has led to initiatives that allow for a similar favoritism as the proposed ISP "fast lanes."

For example, early this year, AT&T announced a plan for Internet services and apps called "Sponsored Data," which allows those who can afford it (think Google, Facebook and/or Apple) to pay for its users' data consumption when they're using specific apps on AT&T's wireless network -- in effect, making it "free" to for people to use certain apps without going against their data caps. The plan violates standard Net Neutrality principles, but with the current Open Internet rules in disarray, it's likely legal.

The End of One FCC Comment Period, But More Time For Input Remains

The FCC's official commenting period ended after the extended deadline on Friday, June 18. All in all, according to TechCrunch, the total tally of comments over the proposed Open Internet rules reached over 1,000,000 and is a new record for a notice of proposed rule making. In the category of general comments/public outrage directed at the FCC, this year's Net Neutrality fury takes second place only to complaints about Janet Jackson's 2004 Super Bowl nipple slip (because, priorities). 

But the commenting period isn't actually over yet. The FCC is taking more public input -- in the form of "reply comments" to comments posted before July 18 -- until September 20, when the public's chance to voice their concerns officially, and fully, ends.

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