|Image by DrAfter123/Getty. Source: Wired|
Moderator’s Note:The FCC is getting ready to finalize new rules governing access to and management of traffic flows on the Internet. Concerned citizens and activists object to proposed rules that would allow a handful of telecom corporations to control the traffic flows, essentially determining which web sites get faster access. Some of us could end up in the gridlocked slow lanes.
It is not often that I post blog entries on issues that lay outside the realm of immigration and the politics of Chicana/o Studies. I am making an exception today because the issue of the structure of the Internet has profound implications for our democratic prospects and the future of independent inquiry and analysis. It is also very significant that the grassroots immigrant rights community considers the issue of “net neutrality” to be important enough that the #Not1More movement is urging people to protest the proposed policies.
The reasons for this involvement are many but two stand out in my mind: First, too often the larger, more established, and better-funded Latina/o advocacy organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) feign to speak for all of us. They most surely do not and we need to let the world know. LULAC has endorsed the rules, which suggests it probably has received a little too much financial support from the telecom giants themselves. Second, net neutrality is important because social and political movements use the Web and social media technologies to organize and promote direct action campaigns. The grassroots immigrant rights movement, including organizations like #Not1More and Presente.org, have made effective use of the Internet in this manner. The proposed rules could hamper this type of organizing and mobilizing of our social movements.
I am therefore posting a press release and call for action I received from Presente.org and urge my readers and followers to use the links below to register your voice in support of net neutrality. Help the immigrant rights movement keep access to the Internet open and free.
LULAC among organizations
towing corporate line
NET NEUTRALITY THREATENED BY PROPOSED FCC RULES
|Art by Favianna Rodriguez|
Presente.org | August 26, 2014
Prominent Latino civic organizations that work to represent our communities’ interests are now opposing a policy that could be critical for Latino communities to thrive in the 21st century. At the same time, their stance would benefit the telecommunications industry, which doles out millions of dollars to these groups — raising serious questions about conflict of interests.1,2
The FCC claims to be especially interested in expanding the promise of the Internet for minorities, so when Latino groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) speak out against policies that will protect an open Internet, it gives powerful cover to telecom efforts to boost their profits.3,4
The best way to discourage this behavior is to render it ineffective. If we let the FCC know that these groups don’t necessarily speak for their Latino constituents on Net Neutrality, their voices will become less influential and thus less valuable to the telecom industry.
Why We Need an Open Internet
Newspapers, radio, television: all these media had the potential to empower Latinos and other minority communities by allowing us to represent ourselves and launch new business enterprises. But in each case, powerful business interests suppressed their incredible liberating potential.
This hasn’t yet happened with the Internet. Because the Internet operates as a level playing field, anyone can start a blog to report on important issues mainstream media outlets aren’t covering. Anyone can start a political movement that takes on giant corporations — and win. Anyone can start a business that competes on equal footing with well-established companies. The Internet provides an opportunity for your ideas to be heard despite the size of your bank account.
Net Neutrality is the principle that keeps the Internet operating as a level playing field — it basically says that broadband providers, like Comcast or AT&T, need to treat all data flowing over their networks the same. They can’t slow down or block the ideas you create online just because they don’t like what you have to say.
Most importantly, Net Neutrality also means that those same companies can’t give preferred access to their friends, allies, and business partners. Thanks to Net Neutrality, Verizon couldn’t create an Internet fast lane for one company to the detriment of its competitors. The problem is that broadband providers, like Verizon, see cutting those kinds of deals as an important source of revenue going forward, and they’re spending millions of dollars lobbying the FCC to allow them to do so. They don’t care that they’ll stifle innovation and keep new businesses started by less resourced people, especially Latinos and other minorities, from being able to compete on a level playing field.
Deploying Latino Dissent
Net Neutrality is unquestionably good for our communities. But recently, a number of Latino organizations have spoken out against the only way to keep broadband companies from creating Internet fast lanes and discriminating against content they don’t like — reclassifying high-speed Internet as a common carrier.5,6
These organizations argue — as do the telecoms — that if the telecoms could make more money by charging more for the highest quality network access, they’ll invest in more and cheaper Internet access for Latinos and other minority communities. The argument is patently false: telecoms already make a hefty profit on broadband, even seeing an increase in recent years, but investment simply has not kept pace.7 This fact doesn’t prevent these organizations from repeating debunked arguments.
LULAC, one of the organizations most vocally against reclassification, has received millions of dollars from the telecommunications industry in recent years. Its last conference was sponsored by AT&T, Comcast, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a cable industry lobbying group.8 The group is in a long-term corporate partnership with Comcast that began in 2006.9 And between 2004 and 2007, LULAC received at least $2.5 million from AT&T.10
Similarly, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) — established as a front group for the telecommunications industry in a scathing Center for Public Integrity report last year11 — has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from broadband providers over the years, and has repeatedly organized opposition to Net Neutrality and reclassification.12,13And Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), another well-known front group, regularly gives voice to lobbyists for the telecommunications industry — its “Senior Advisor” Martin Chavez is on staff with one of Verizon’s D.C. lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group — even as it accepts millions of dollars in contributions from those companies.14
While taking corporate money is common practice with many national organizations, it represents a major conflict of interest when these organizations begin to take on positions that support telecommunications companies’ interests. We also know that telecoms and their lobbyists view these donations as an important investment. Verizon reportedly cut off support for the National Hispanic Media Coalition when the organization took a pro-Net Neutrality position in 2010.15 And one telecom lobbyist infamously said in 2008, “You go down the Latino people, the deaf people, the farmers, and choose them… You say, ‘I can’t use this one — I already used them last time….’ We had their letterhead. We’d just write the letter. We’d fax it to them and tell them, ‘You’re in favor of this.’”16
Net Neutrality is unquestionably good for our communities, but accountability is even more critical. Whether Black, Latino, or Asian, our communities count on organizations like Presente.org or LULAC to accurately represent their constituents’ interests, not those of their corporate donors. The sacred trust our members put in us leaves no room for questions about the integrity of our actions.
But the actions of some Latino organizations, including LULAC, MANA, The Latino Coalition, and others invite questions about conflict of interest and about whether these organizations are more accountable to their members or to their corporate funders. By taking action today, you’ll not only help secure Net Neutrality, but also strike a blow against the corrupting influence of corporate dollars in the organizations that claim to represent Latinos.
Thanks and ¡adelante!
Mariana, Luis, Arturo, and the rest of the Presente.org Team
P.S. Can you donate $5 to support our work? We rely on contributions from people like you to see campaigns like this through.
1. Why Is The NAACP Siding With Verizon Over Net Neutrality, Huffington Post, July 31, 2014
2. Leading Civil Rights Groups Just Sold Out on Net Neutrality, Republic Report, July 24, 2014
3. See note 1
4. Civil rights group’s FCC positions reflect industry funding, critics say, Center for Public Integrity, June 6, 2013
5. Title II is the key to net neutrality—so what is it?, Daily Dot, May 20, 2014
6. Net Neutrality Astroturfing Stirs Up Conflict Between Latino/Minority Groups, TechDirt, July 24, 2014
7. Finding The Bottom Line: The Truth About Network Neutrality & Investment, Free Press, October, 2009
8. LULAC’s 17th Annual Legislative Conference and Awards Gala is a Huge Success, League of United Latin American Citizens, February, 27, 2014
9. LULAC Joins Comcst “Our Time To Vote,” a $5 Million National Multi-Cultural Voter Education And Registration Campaign, League of United Latin American Citizens, January 11, 2008
10. AT&T and League of United Latin American Citizens Empower Low-Income Hispanic Communities With Technology, League of United Latin American Citizens, April 17, 2007
11. See note 4
12. HTTP joins MMTC and 35 national minority and civil rights organizations in filing on the Open Internet, Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership, July 20, 2014
13. See note 6
14. Open Internet Panelists’ Ties to Industry Exposed, National Hispanic Media Coalition, July 9, 2014
15. See note 1
16. See note 6