There are many reasons why Internet companies and tech startups are pushing for tighter regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs), but for minorities in the U.S., the fight for net neutrality digs deep into the roots of the great technology divide.
Progressive groups have been prominent figures in the fight for net neutrality – the principle that ISPs should treat all content online equally without giving any favor to particular websites or advertisers.
The reason these groups have been up in arms over the lack of net neutrality protections is because without net neutrality, the barriers to entry for minority groups and startup companies become nearly impossible to scale.
Higher speeds will be granted to advertisers and websites who are able to pay more to ensure faster speeds for their content.
Meanwhile, other content online could be delivered at painfully slow speeds.
Now, advocates for net neutrality are taking aim at organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League for their lack of support for net neutrality protections.
According to a 2009 study commissioned by Free Press and the Harmony Institute, a key factor in winning the fight for net neutrality protections is to “win over and mobilize liberal middle-class African-Americans and women,” Watchdog.org reports.
Now that the discussion has garnered much more attention over the past few years, people of color are coming together to demand stronger net neutrality protections in order to protect the presence of minority voices online.
“In recent years, support among people of color for strong net neutrality protections has continue to grow as the issue receives more attention and people realize what’s at stake,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of ColorOfChange.org, during an interview with Watchdog.org.
The problem, Robinson pointed out, is that major groups like the NAACP have received major funding from telecom companies and that financial backing may be enough to stifle their voices when it comes to the net neutrality debate.
“Some civil rights organizations, which receive massive funding from telecom companies, used to openly advocate against net neutrality protections,” he said. “Now, they say they support net neutrality while doing everything they can to undermine it by attacking Title II reclassification, which courts have told the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is the only way for it to protect net neutrality.”
Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 would require the FCC to classify ISPs as common carriers, which would prohibit them from giving paid prioritization to certain content.
“Meanwhile, the civil rights organizations attacking Title II do not engage their constituents on this issue, preferring to make their case in beltway publications and filing to the FCC,” Robinson added.
Some tech entrepreneurs believe this is yet another case of major decisions being made in the technology space without considering the African-American community and other minorities.
The African-American community is currently severely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, which means there are not enough minorities in the tech space to help continue the push for net neutrality.
Without a commitment from major civil rights groups, it’s possible that minority voices will be muffled during discussions of net neutrality, which could eventually lead to those same voices fading away in the digital space.
In other words, despite the fact that recent studies revealed that African-Americans are some of the most prominent users of technology, they could continue to have the least amount of say in what happens with the future of the Internet.