Neutrality or Equality?

A summary of the issues surrounding the future of the Internet and how that impacts African Americans.

NNPA | 2/3/2015, 12:05 p.m.
A summary of the issues surrounding the future of the Internet and how that impacts African Americans.

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The future of the Internet is a hot topic these days, and the key term concerning its future is “net neutrality.”

Simply put, it’s the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data on the Internet the same, regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. That means that companies like AT&T, Comcast, Charter Communications, Verizon, and others from which consumers buy Internet access can’t and won’t block such access based on how the Internet is used politically, socially, or any other way.

Many people believe that the net neutrality concept is responsible for making the Internet an open source for worldwide information. There’s controversy, however, as to whether the Internet should be regulated and if so, how.

Racial divide

The issue has heated up, partially as a consequence of a racial “digital divide” that continues to persist.

According to Pew Research information, “African-Americans have long been less likely than whites to use the Internet and to have high-speed broadband access at home, and that continues to be the case.”

Pew concludes that African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall Internet use (80 percent vs. 87 percent for whites). Seventy-four percent of whites and 62 percent of African Americans have some sort of broadband connection at home. Home Internet access impacts kids’ availability to do homework online as well as an adult’s ability to complete job applications.

At the same time, “Blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms,” according to Pew.

Multiple approaches

For the past year, policymakers from the White House to Congress have been debating four approaches to giving the concept of net neutrality the force of law:

(1) Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure that broadband service is available to “all Americans;”

(2) Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which would reclassify broadband as a public utility;

(3) No regulation; or

(4) A hybrid approach that would classify Internet ISPs as public utilities, but maintain their services under Section 706.

Civil rights and a host of labor organizations that include the Multicultural Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an advocacy group with decades of experience in complex FCC issues; the National Urban League; the NAACP; Rainbow/PUSH; and others have urged the FCC to take the hybrid approach.

“Section 706 offers the best opportunity for innovation, investment, and universal broadband adoption,” according to MMTC. “This approach provides oversight in a manner that would encourage investment, job creation, deployment, and adoption of broadband.”

MMTC and the civil rights organizations say that the goal should be regulations that will provide consumer protections and an open Internet, while not killing broadband deployment and jobs.

Net ‘equality’

“MMTC wants Internet neutrality, but more than that, we want Internet equality,” the organization wrote in a joint letter to the FCC with the other groups.