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Net Neutrality advocates to dissenting Minority Organizations: “Father knows best”

How does the saying go?

“Insanity is making the same mistake over and over again but expecting a different result.”

I think I must be experiencing déjà vu because every few months as I peruse through my list of favorite news and tech sites, I discover a long-winded article written by a leader from one of the new Netroots organization making a low blow jab at those minority civil rights groups that disagree with their organization about network neutrality.

These opinion pieces have become formulatic at this point.  I notice a pattern to the line of argument and it goes as follows:

Step 1. Declare that Net Neutrality is a “civil rights” or “human rights” or “first amendment” issue.  After all, saying something is so should be enough, even absent facts, statistics and ample evidence and support for the position, right?

Step 2. Point out the fact that some of the minority and civil rights organizations that do not agree with said statement from Step 1 have received sponsorship support from some of the  larger corporations in the communications industry for their events.

Step 3. Make the leap and insult the integrity, values of said disagreeing civil rights organizations and declare that their positions are not their own, but rather those of the companies that happen to sponsor their events.

Step 4: Ignore the fact that many other majority nonprofit organizations also are beneficiaries of corporate sponsorship dollars yet very few question their decisions based on this fact. Also,  ignore the fact that these sponsorships have been given for decades and within those decades these organizations have disagreed with those who sponsor their events on numerous occasions.

It’s patriarchal, condescending and insulting, to say the least.

At top, this type of commentary that I  have to re-visit over and over and over again represents a fundamental misunderstanding and perhaps an underestimation of what true civil rights, first amendment or human rights issues are.

The latest of such article came from New America Media, “Is Internet Access the Next Civil Rights Battle?” It starts this way:

“The ongoing, often arcane, battle over whether telecommunications companies may slow certain online services and charge fees to speed up others has morphed into a civil rights controversy.”

It then goes along to repeat step 2 through 4 mentioned above, precisely.

Historically, the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations fought for voting rights, desegregation, against Jim Crow, and for equal access and equality.  Today, while many of these old civil rights issues are no longer relevant, there are new ones that have cropped up  that these civil rights organizations deal with on behalf of the communities they represent.

The African American unemployment rate, for example, stands at a little over 16% compared to the nation’s 9.6%.  In education, minority students still are lagging behind Whites in test scores; and schools in urban areas, on Indian reservations and in heavy Hispanic areas are underfunded, inadequate and struggling to meet the needs of their student populations.

The minority high school graduation rate is also lower than the majority population. The trend continues in college.  A recent Education Trust report revealed that nationwide, 60 percent of white students earn a degree within six years on a college campus, compared to only 40 percent of African-Americans and 49 percent of Latinos.

Youth violence is tearing up urban communities and having a dangerous impact on the quality of life and continued existence of a generation of young minority youth.  It impacts schools, neighborhoods and communities .  Despite an overall drop in black on black crime in recent years, the problems of violence in urban cities with minority population remain a main concern for civil rights organizations.  Allocation of government resources, sentencing disparity, youth offender laws, community policing, foster home regulation and other matters need addressing by civil rights organizations.

Further, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy revealed a new study sharing a rise in drug use among African American girls and Hispanic boys.  Attention must be paid on how to deal with this increase and respond appropriately so children do not lose out on opportunities and turn into drug addicts.

Finally, the Civil Rights Coalition assembled a list of top Civil Rights priorities for lawmakers in 2010 and among them are: (1) Job Creation; (2) Financial Services Reform; (3) Confirmation of Executive and Judicial Branch Nominees;  (4) Implementation of a Fair; (5) Comprehensive Immigration Reform;  (6) Employee Free Choice Act;  (7) Cocaine Sentencing Disparities;  (8) Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); (9) Voting Representation for DC Residents; (10) Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); (11) End Racial Profiling Act; (12) Arbitration Fairness Act; (13) Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; (14) Protecting Older Workers against Discrimination Act; (15) Ending Housing Discrimination and Promoting Integration;  (16) Hate Crimes Prevention Implementation; (17) Health Care Reform; (18) Enact the Open Access to Courts Act/Notice Pleading Restoration Act; (19) Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA); (20) Paycheck Fairness Act; (21) Reversal of Alexander v. Sandoval and (22) Reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program; (23) Reform of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Notice how network neutrality is inconspicuously absent from that list?  When people are dealing with life or death issues, the state of Internet prioritization unfortunately is NOT a priority! It is simply nowhere on the radar.

Even among media and communications issues that organizations like the Minority Media & Telecommunications  Council work on, there is a list of at least 75 other priority items for minority  other than network neutrality.

Mind you, these other issues existed before Netroots organizations decided that groups like MMTC ought to elevate Network Neutrality to the top of the list.  (They’ve done a great job of doing that at the FCC and usurping the dialog from other priorities)

After all, aren’t these Netroots organizations the master of all consumer issues as they impact all consumers?

These groups seem quite indignant over the fact that not all civil rights organizations are toeing the line as they have drawn it in the sand.  The air of superiority they give off is daunting.   I do not think they realize this.  And it’s getting worse as they realize they may not get their way after all.

Some of these newer organizations had nothing to say about minorities and media when MMTC was fighting for decades to assist minority employment in the broadcast journalism? There is still a long way to go.  A 2010  RTDNA/Hofstra University study stated that minorities made up 35.3% of total population, but comprised only 20.2% of TV news staffing and an almost invisible 5% of radio staffing.   Television station general managers were 94.7% Caucasian, and 92% Caucasian at surveyed radio stations.  In 2006,  minorities composed a third of the population and owned less than 4% of TV stations and 7% of commercial radio stations.  Another recent study found that African Americans made up 1% of Internet start ups.  They also do not control much of the nation’s publicly-owned wireless spectrum either.  The FCC’s designated entity rules continue to disable minority run wireless businesses from competing in auctions.  In  wireless Auction 73 last year – beachfront spectrum ‐ $19 billion worth of licenses were sold. Minorities acquired $5 million worth, which is less than three one hundredths of one percent of the total value of those licenses.  MMTC joined Council Tree and Bethel Native to challenge the rule change in the third circuit and won.

For newer media, the challenge continues.  The broadband adoption rate among minorities is significantly lower compared to Whites. According to the Pew Center and other sources, in 2009, 68 percent of white households had broadband service, compared to 46 percent of African-American households and 48 percent of Hispanic households (but 68 percent of the subgroup of English-speaking Hispanics).

With broadband, many in these communities would have access to distant learning opportunities, Telemedicine, job search, benefits administration and other benefits. It is a digital connector and will certainly assist them become more competitive and civically engaged.

I am for an open internet.  We all have been benefiting  and enjoying it under the current open net environment and for all of the years of the Internet’s existence.  It is a beautiful thing because the broadband marketplace has low barrier of entries for minority content producers. The potential is endless. I agree that those who block traffic are wrong and should be punished.  If the free market economy alone were to rule, one would expect  that customers would abandon ISPs that block their access to the places they want to visit.  However, the reality is that for many, they have no alternative to turn to  and therefore government oversight, a complaint and review process may be in order to ensure fairness.  Some have stated that the innovation community is savvy and sophisticated enough to figure ways around any blocking or other bad behavior.  While that is true, there is room for government involvement.  Self-regulation and other measures combined would work to  address market failure and bad actors.  Yes, these are very interesting and important issues that I hope are resolved soon.  But simply put, it is a matter that just does not deserve to be placed atop the civil rights agenda.  That is all.  Why can’t we agree to disagree and move on?

To be honest, I long for the days when if you were unable to convince another civil rights or consumer group to join your side of the argument or sign on to your comments or coalition, you left it at that.  You submitted your best arguments and hoped for the best. You worked hard to convince decision makers to accept your side of the issue.

You did not overstate the problem, using hyperbole and exaggeration at every opportunity. You did not rally forces using scare tactics and announcing a parade of horribles to get them on your side.

You did not brow beat those who disagreed, and tried to insult them into compliance.

They should know by now that that tactic has not and will not work.

Insanity is making the same mistake over and over again but expecting a different result.

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Jeneba “JJ Ghatt”,is editor at, an online hub where she helps social media butterfly who empowers digital entrepreneurs and professionals to create great things online at her online learning platform Digital Publishing Academy.  She is an editor of tech blog and founded the annual 200 Black Women to Follow On Twitter List. Read her bio, then get all of her online & digital biz startup advice and tools in one spot here!

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