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Net Neutrality Is Latest Civil Rights Fight; Grass Roots Must Join

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The issue of net neutrality is crucial in today’s fight for racial justice and equality says Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization.

Is the federal government trying to dismantle Obama-era rules that supporters say protects the flow of information on the internet? Or is it doing away with rules that critics say stifle the openness and innovation that has made the internet what it is today?

That is at the heart of an obscure policy debate in Washington. A number of groups that are critical of internet service providers like Comcast argue that the rules, known as net neutrality, are essential to prevent such companies from giving premium access to content providers willing to pay for it. But opponents of the rules say they are unnecessary government meddling in a space that has flourished precisely because the government has kept its hands off of it.

In an interesting twist, the debate has drawn the interest of civil rights activists. The most notable is Color of Change.

The group’s involvement in the fight is itself the subject of heated debate. The group and its supporters say that it is simply seeking to ensure that all voices are heard on the internet, in the long tradition of civil rights.

Now, Color of Change and other supporters of net neutrality are gearing up for what promises to be one of the biggest online protests to fight the Federal Communication Commission’s move to repeal the rules. The protests will take place on July 12. Protesters plan to use tools on major web platforms to contact members of Congress and the FCC, according to Fight for the Future, another group involved in the protest.

Leaders at the Color of Change argue that repealing the rules would devastate Black communities.

net neutrality
Ajit Pai

Net neutrality is essential to protecting our free and open Internet, which has been crucial to today’s fights for civil rights and equality,” the Color of Change writes in an online petition. “Our ability to h

ave our voices heard in this democracy depends on an open Internet because it allows voices and ideas to spread based on substance, rather than financial backing. We will not stand by silently as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai solidifies his role reigning over Donald Trump‘s FCC by following through on Trump’s campaign promise to dominate the web by closing the open Internet.”

Pai, a former Verizon attorney, has proposed to overturn a 2015 Obama administration decision that empowers the commission to regulate the Internet much like a telephone company.

Opponents say the plan would allow broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to throttle or even block content or charge content providers to prioritize their sites. It could come up for a vote as soon as October.

But proponents of the measure are suspicious of the movement and point a finger at liberal billionaire George Soros. The Color of Change and its PAC have been recipients of Soros dollars, according to published reports and donor records, which proponents argue has enabled them in part to wage attacks on internet service providers whose goal they believe is to restrict access to the web.

Political commentators like Hazel Edney recently noted in a Black Enterprise Op-Ed  that Soros believes in big government or that the federal “government is the preferred arbiter of the flow of internet content.” She and others also argue that the protest movement is a red herring for economic interests, not racial justice.

Let me be clear. I am not saying it’s not an important issue to our community,” she writes. “I simply disagree in the draping of the issue in racial justice and presuming to speak for all African Americans when some of our communities have literally burned to the ground because of more critical issues that have not been funded.”

Brandi Collins, senior campaign director for media and economic justice, told NewsOne in an email statement that racial justice is not a zero sum game.

Of course police violence and income inequality are incredibly important issues for our communities–that’s why Color Of Change devotes so many resources into fighting them,” she states. “But net neutrality is also something of consequence for Black people–it ensures our very free speech on the internet. If we cede that, we lose the ability to fight for everything else.”


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Phyllis Coley
Phyllis D. Coley is CEO/Publisher of Spectacular Magazine and Host of Spectacular Magazine Radio Show. With a B.A. in English from NCCU, the Durham native began her professional career as Promotions/Marketing Director for New York City’s WKTU-FM. While at the radio station, Coley discovered the rap group Kid ‘n Play and managed them for five years, guiding their music and movie careers to success. Moving back to Durham, Coley produced a nationally syndicated television show, The Electric Factory, while working as News Director for FOXY 107/104. In April 2002, recognizing a void in highlighting the achievements of African Americans, she started her own business publishing ACE Magazine. Coley launched Spectacular Magazine in November 2004. Recognizing the lack of pertinent and truthful information, Coley began Spectacular Magazine Radio Show in March 2009. Coley is the organizer of Durham's Annual MLK/Black History Month Parade and the Annual North Carolina Juneteenth Celebration. She currently serves on Central Children’s Home Board of Directors, Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Advisors, as Immediate Past Secretary of the Durham Rotary Club Board of Directors and is one of the founding members of the Triangle United Way’s African American Leadership Initiative.

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