Beyond beltway, groups say the FCC must protect broadband

Media Action Grassroots Network:

Nationwide, community groups respond to killed Waxman bill, claim FCC authority over broadband is the only sure way to protect consumers

A coalition of 60 community organizations from across the US and leaders representing small businesses, communities of color and America s'poor says while clear rules of the road for high speed broadband Internet are needed, getting those rules from Congress isn't the way.

Coalition spokespeople suggest that the lack of Net Neutrality protection for wireless broadband in the recent Waxman bill was unacceptable, failed to meet equity standards and could have slowed the road to economic prosperity for America's rural, struggling suburban and urban communities of color.

"We need clear rules of the road for broadband, but we need them from the FCC, not Congress. The legislation drafted by Representative Waxman would have taken the unprecedented step of limiting the authority of the FCC to craft rules necessary to prevent anti competitive and undemocratic abuses by wealthy and powerful telecommunications providers-- placing communities of color and other vulnerable consumers at risk," says Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of Center for Media Justice.

The coalition released a letter asking Representative Waxman to urge FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to classify broadband as a Title II communications service. In the letter, groups claim that the failed bill was essentially the same as the roundly criticized Google-Verizon plan and would have further limited the Federal Communications Commission's rule-making authority for two more years, potentially grid-locking the agency's ability to prevent unjust and unreasonable Internet discrimination on the nation's telecommunications super highway.

The groups also say the legislation would likely have prevented the FCC from reforming the Universal Service Fund and stalled key components of the National Broadband Plan aimed to ensure all rural and low-income households have affordable high speed broadband Internet access.

"Classifying high speed broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service is the only sure way to protect communities of color, poor communities and small businesses from online discrimination. An open Internet is really an open for business sign for these communities," added Cyril.

The coalition's consensus is that Internet discrimination, high costs, and digital redlining disproportionately affect the least-served and most vulnerable populations in the U.S., curtailing broadband adoption for many communities and minority small businesses pushed to the margins by the nation's digital divide.

According to a study by the Center for Social Inclusion, "Broadband In The Mississippi Delta: A 21st Century Racial Justice Issue," zip codes with 8 or more Internet providers average 811 business and 13,212 jobs, compared to 7 businesses and 646 jobs on average in zip codes with just 2-3 providers. The study also showed that people of color are the majority in zip codes with zero access to high speed Internet.

"We are at a crossroads in the history of the Internet," says Garlin Gilchrist II of the Center for Community Change. "Representative Waxman and FCC Chair Julius Genachowski still have an opportunity to protect the intrinsic values of openness and non-discrimination that make the Internet a revolutionary medium for communication and connection. Asserting the proper authority, reclassifying broadband as a universal service and crafting thoughtful, forward-looking policy for both wired and wireless broadband will ensure a vibrant future for all people and all businesses."

"Enforceable and effective rules are necessary to ensure net neutrality, provide broadband subsidies to low-income individuals, protect vulnerable consumers and close the digital divide," says Amalia Deloney, Policy Director at CMJ.

"The failed bill didn't measure up to standards of equity and protection from corporate abuse, and instead would have turned the Internet into a piggy bank for big media," added Deloney. "While bi-partisan efforts to set rules of the road were unsuccessful, the FCC still has the power to break the grid-lock on Net Neutrality. We hope Waxman follows through on the words of his office, 'The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet.'"

article originally published at Media Action Grassroots Network.

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