Civil Rights and Racial Justice Groups Support Real Net Neutrality, Reclassification | Commentary

Posted December 22, 2014 at 4:26pm

Known Verizon hired gun Marty Chavez recently purported to speak not just for the Hispanic Technology and Telecom Partnership, but also the “vast majority” of civil rights organizations on the issue of net neutrality and reclassification (“Why Minorities Oppose Utility Regulations on the Internet,” Roll Call, Dec. 16).

To set the record straight, more than a hundred civil rights and racial justice organizations and leaders have seen through the self-serving Internet Service Provider talking points to understand why strong net neutrality rules must prevent ISPs from blocking and online discrimination. Moreover, we know the only sound legal approach is for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. For Chavez to state that the “vast majority” of civil rights organizations are with him is disingenuous, at best.

Chavez also repeats two disproven ISP talking points in an effort to oppose the wave of support for net neutrality and reclassification from millions of people across the country, dozens of leaders in Congress, and even President Barack Obama. Namely, that reclassification would harm investment, or raise prices through new taxes, which, in turn, would harm broadband adoption by Latinos.

Neither of those arguments could be further from the truth.

First, the claim that Title II net neutrality rules would harm investment has been thoroughly debunked. Reams of historical data make this clear. Even companies responsible for infrastructure investment debunk this myth themselves by telling investors they will continue investing in broadband regardless of whether the FCC passes rules under Title II.

For example, Verizon’s CFO, Francis Shammo, was asked at an investor conference whether the push for Title II would affect Verizon’s investment in broadband. His answer: “No.”

Many other ISPs, like Time Warner Cable and Charter, have echoed this sentiment at similar conferences. In fact, even as industry analysts report that Title II net neutrality rules are increasingly likely, carriers are currently bidding tens of billions of dollars in a record-breaking auction for new spectrum that will be used to deploy wireless broadband.

Second, Chavez claims Title II will lead to the imposition of new local, state, and federal taxes and fees on broadband service, citing to a paper released by the Progressive Policy Institute. However, this paper was challenged almost immediately after its publication. Indeed, the recently reauthorized Internet Tax Freedom Act prevents state and local governments from imposing any new taxes on Internet access. The law and its legislative history are clear that Internet access shall be exempted from tax regardless of platform or regulatory treatment of the service.

When considering federal fees, Chavez seems to vaguely refer to Universal Service Fund payments that carriers pass on to consumers — money that ensures rural and low-income consumers, health facilities, and schools and libraries have access to communications services. However, reclassifying broadband services under Title II alone would not require broadband customers to pay into this pot or pay more than they do now. And, Chavez’s nebulous attack on fees that support Universal Service seems out-of-touch with his expressed concern with broadband access and adoption in the Latino community.

Title II will neither diminish broadband investment nor create new Internet access taxes. With those arguments refuted, Chavez’s assertion that Title II would impact Latino broadband adoption is unsupported.

The FCC is poised to implement new rules in 2015. The National Hispanic Media Coalition hopes the FCC will do the right thing for Latinos and other people of color by passing strong yet bounded, legally sustainable rules preventing blocking and unreasonable discrimination by wired and wireless carriers alike. As the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals made clear earlier this year, the FCC cannot adopt Open Internet rules that achieve these goals without using its Title II authority. With appropriate forbearance, the FCC can achieve a “light touch” regulatory result that best serves everyone.

Moreover, such rules will preserve the Internet as the open platform that it is today, with low barriers to entry and devoid of gatekeepers. It will allow all of us to tell our own stories in our own words and enrich our lives. These benefits apply to all Latinos and other people of color who are underrepresented in traditional media. Yes, even those that have been paid by ISPs to say otherwise.

Alex Nogales is president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.