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  • 02.14.17

Why civil rights groups are siding with telecom giants in the net neutrality fight

In the debate over net neutrality, civil rights groups like the NAACP, National Urban League, and Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership have found themselves on the pro-deregulation side of big internet providers like Comcast and Verizon, reports The Intercept. A joint letter issued last week by these and other groups criticized efforts aimed at “locking in net neutrality” as risking the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC.”

That position is not a new one for some of these groups, and it unusually pits them against other civil liberties organizations like Color of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union. Critics have charged that their support has more to do with Big Telecom’s big donations to the civil rights organizations than matters of principle. Comcast has reportedly provided more than $1.8 billion in support to some of the organizations between 2001 and 2010, and Verizon gave $1.2 million to the National Urban League in 2014, according to The Intercept.

When it has previously sided with telecom companies, the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC), the industry-focused civil rights group that organized the joint letter, has invoked the public interest. Last year, the MMTC backed so-called zero-rating programs that allow free or discounted use of certain sites and streaming services—projects that telecom companies and Facebook have pursued, over objections from net neutrality advocates—on the basis they make access more affordable to people in “primarily low-income and multicultural communities.” (The group, which has also previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality, has also come under fire for ties to the telecom industry.) 

Since President Trump appointed Republican Ajit Pai to chair the Federal Communications Commission, the agency has abruptly abandoned probes into such zero-rating plans offered by the big cellphone carriers.SM