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Net Neutrality Ruling Will Disempower Latinos, says National Hispanic Media Coalition VP

First Posted: Jan 24, 2014 08:58 PM EST
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A federal appeals court effectively struck down the Federal Communications Commission's Net Neutrality rules for internet providers on Tuesday last week, which is a very bad thing for Latinos and other minorities, according to Jessica Gonzales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Net Neutrality and the FCC

There's a lot of debate surrounding the decision handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which ruled in favor of big telecom and basically stripped the Federal Communications Commission of its ability (at least temporarily) to enforce its "Open Internet Rules," the FCC's version of Net Neutrality.

Some, like the telecom companies and the Associated Press, have said (or promised) that it won't change a thing. Some see it as a good change, encouraging innovation and new services. Others are predicting the end of the internet as we know it, calling it a nightmare scenario.

As we previously reported, internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and AT&T Wireless have already telegraphed their intentions: AT&T just introduced a Net Neutrality-suspicious program called "Sponsored Data" and Verizon, speaking through its lawyer in September 2013, said it was planning on taking advantage of a situation without the FCC's Open Internet Rules.

These ISPs, and others, now have the go-ahead to manage the internet traffic their customers get: slowing down some sites, blocking others, and charging internet services like Netflix -- or even customers -- for "premium access," which would be the end of the basic idea that you pay for your internet once, and after that, you decide what content you want to see. But even former FCC officials, like former commissioner Robert McDowell, are saying things like "nothing needs fixing ... The Internet has remained open and accessible without FCC micromanagement since it entered public life in the 1990s," and arguing that more regulation is harmful.

Net Neutrality and Latinos, according to the National Hispanic Media Coalition

Not so, said Jessica Gonzalez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, who has testified before the FCC and other government bodies representing Latino civil rights in the age of the internet. She spoke with The Real News about her concerns.

Responding to the former FCC commissioner McDowell's comment, Gonzalez said, "We hear this one all the time. The truth is that network neutrality is important in ensuring what the Court even recognized was a virtuous cycle of innovation that happens online, edge providers creating opportunities not just for people to tell their stories, but also economic opportunities at the edge." She added, "And that's exactly why the net neutrality rules are so important. They ensure equality and fairness on the internet, and they are a catalyst for economic growth."

Gonzalez cited Verizon's intentions to break Net Neutrality if the FCC's rules were removed, and explained why that's bad for Latinos on the internet:

"Latinos and other people of color have long faced discrimination at the hands of mainstream media. What is exciting for us about the internet is that we are able to share our own stories fairly and accurately, to push back against discrimination, to organize our community for positive change, and even in many cases to earn a living. So this is vitally important for communities of color."

While the digital divide continues to exist, "creating further barriers for some of our most disenfranchised communities to get equal access to education, to job applications, to healthcare, to civic engagement opportunities, and to get informed and communicate with their family and friends," according to Gonzalez, gives telecommunications companies even more free reign to chose what internet customers get and to possibly package and charge premiums will only broaden that divide.

Gonzalez recommended that the FCC reassert its authority over broadband companies -- not just to enforce Net Neutrality, but to ensure that broadband is actually affordable. This is something in the FCC's power, and something that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has cautiously hinted at doing to the Minority Media and Telecom Council last week. Gonzalez says it needs to happen, now that the Open Internet is at stake:

"At the outset, the immediate outset, [the strike-down of Net Neutrality] benefits wealthy internet service providers that are already charging us an arm and a leg to get online. And now they are going to be allowed to make special deals with big corporations that can pay more to have their content go faster. And so they are the immediate beneficiaries.

"This could easily be undone. The rights of the people, the rights of communities of color, but the rights of all consumers really can be put before the rights of big cable and telephone companies that are earning astronomical profits every year. All that has to happen is the FCC chairman, Wheeler, must reclassify broadband providers as Title II service providers under the Communications Act."

Petitions and campaigns are all over the internet to that effect, including at the National Hispanic Media Coalition's website. For more news on the recent Net Neutrality decision, check out this page at LatinPost.com.

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