Net Neutrality: Why it Matters to People of Color

Net Neutrality: Why it Matters to People of Color


Less than twenty-four hours after the D.C. Circuit issued its ruling in Verizon v. FCC, holding that the Federal Communications Commission has broad authority to regulate broadband and invalidating the Commission’s non-discrimination and anti-blocking rules from its 2010 Open Internet Order, Roland Martin interviewed Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Vice President & Chief Research and Policy Officer for the Minority Media and Telecommunications and Kristal Lauren High, Esq., Editor in Chief of, about net neutrality and why it matters to people of color.

Excerpts of the interview follow. The entire interview can be heard here.

Roland: Net Neutrality is, frankly, something the average person hears and it goes in one ear and out the other…to me, it’s a stupid phrase that doesn’t capture the attention of anybody. Does the average person even understand what that means?

Nicol: Net neutrality is primarily focused on ensuring, from the standpoint of those advocating for it, that people have the right to post content or get content in a reasonable manner, and that big companies should not discriminate or block the content that we want to see, whether its on YouTube or other venues.

Roland: We have seen examples before where Internet providers slowed down certain companies for various purposes.

Kristal: People should rest assured that after yesterday, the FCC still has its authority in tact. That’s what the Court basically said. The FCC has the authority to regulate the Internet. It can do the things it needs to do in order to make sure that consumer interests are met – that you’re not having your content unlawfully blocked, that you’re not having your services slowed down, that you can access the content of your choosing. Even when you think about this phrase net neutrality, I love that you say it’s something that doesn’t catch the eye, because we don’t want the net to be neutral. The Internet is, and always has been, a dynamic medium.  It’s a platform where we’re able to do so many things, from research for school – you promote your educational pursuits, you can get a job, you can check on healthcare status, you can work on different applications and services.  All of these things you can do by virtue of the Internet. Those are the things that are being protected.

Roland: This really messes with that young entrepreneur, that African American that wants to start an online network – this makes it a lot more difficult, right?

Kristal: No, not at all. You first have to remember that the FCC is still the cop on the beat. They’re going to be there, they’re watching these things, and in the past when we’ve seen instances where Internet Service Providers have tried to slow down traffic, or maybe give priority to another service, they got caught…and they’ve faced penalties for it. And the culture of the Internet now, there’s this notion of public shaming. So I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about too many companies, going forward, trying to slow down products and services, trying to slow down innovation…I think there’s a lot of incentive to make sure they’re doing things that promote innovation and don’t hamper activity by entrepreneurs, by innovators, by people who are trying to get in this space, because it’s not something that’s advantageous to any part of the ecosystem at this point.

Nicol: At a certain point, we’ve got to exercise reasonable network management…We have to understand that this network that’s growing and burgeoning has some constraints when it comes to all the things that every person wants to do with it.

Roland: With this decision, a company may all of a sudden go to, ‘ok, we’re going to give preferential treatment to this distributor, or this company and their content, and we’ll slow yours down,”…You can’t compete with that, and you’re back to the old days of the big boys get to rule the day and the little folks get to scurry around at the bottom to pick up the scraps. That is my biggest issue, my biggest concern.

Kristal: When you start talking about how we share this space, it’s not about the big guys versus the little guys; it really is a complete ecosystem we’re talking about, and I think there really is as much opportunity and upside for new entrants after this decision as there was before…If you put aside this notion that traffic is going to be slowed down and prioritized, because that’s not on the table right now – if anyone were to try that, the FCC is right there to check that behavior. But when you start talking about the economic opportunity, the kind of business arrangements that can be created here, if you look at last week, AT&T announced these new sponsored data plans where they are going to pay for X amount of bandwidth and data. United Healthcare is actually one of the companies that’ve signed up so far…they will pay to have other people access their application, to go onsite, manage their healthcare and get the information they need and access important services. That’s the kind of behavior we want to encourage. Here you have United Healthcare subsidizing that cost, and then you’re opening up bandwidth for experimentation and to play with different things. I think there’s a real upside here we have to explore.