Earlier this year, when a handful of civil rights groups didn’t march in lock-step with their traditional ideological allies, the backlash was nothing short of disturbing. Outlets including the Republic Report, the Daily Kos, and the Huffington Post viciously attacked the NAACP and a number of Hispanic groups for not supporting net neutrality by way of Title II reclassification. They argued that the NAACP and groups like the National Urban League and Hispanic Media Coalition have been bought out by corporate interests — namely, broadband providers like Verizon and AT&T.
Reclassifying the Internet under Title II — which the FCC is currently considering — would essentially treat broadband like a public utility. Many progressive groups that normally ally with the NAACP are pushing for Title II regulation as an avenue to implement “net neutrality,” regardless of the numerous other regulations it would place on the Internet.
Writing for Republic Report, Lee Fang argues that money from the telecom industry led to an “epic sell-out,” with the NAACP essentially claiming that slow lanes and fast lanes for Internet access would “magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.”
Fang’s argument doesn’t take the larger picture of funding into account and cherry-picks facts to fabricate a sensationalist article.
The NAACP has an annual budget of more than $40 million, and though they have received sizeable sums from AT&T in the past, as the Huffington Post notes, they’re not beholden to or meaningfully dependent on any telecom donor. Furthermore, the NAACP’s position reflects a much more nuanced understanding of the issue than Fang would lead readers to believe.
In a statement released with the Communications Workers of America, the NAACP suggested that the FCC’s current Sec. 706 authority, under which Internet access and innovation has exploded, would be sufficient to curtail any potential abuses. And thanks to advances in high-speed networks, they argued, “there is enough capacity for everyone, and concerns about ‘fast lanes’ and ‘slow lanes’ disappear.”
The NAACP also released a statement of their own to further debunk accusations of corporate shilling. At first it sounds very similar in tone and substance to statements from other civil rights groups supporting Title II, citing “the need for swift deployment of broadband Internet services as expeditiously and comprehensively as possible” and “the need to particularly focus on underserved racial and ethnic minority and poor communities.”
Title II would not help these underserved minority and poor communities. On the contrary, it would impose new fees on broadband access that would make it harder for them to be brought online. African Americans and Hispanics lag behind whites by almost ten percent in Internet usage. A Pew report last year found a 12 percent gap in home broadband access between whites and African Americans, and this gap becomes more pronounced when broken out into subgroups such as African Americans over age 65 or without any college education. It also found that only 37 percent of households making less than $30,000 a year have broadband at home. That figure jumps to 52 percent when smartphones are factored in, but it falls far behind the national average of 80 percent.
The NAACP’s asserts that it “neither endorses, nor opposes the formally defined concept of ‘net neutrality’.” What this means practically is that the NAACP opposes the new costs to low-income and minority consumers that would result from Title II reclassification, but hasn’t planted a flag in either camp on the issue of “net neutrality.” Unlike many progressive groups, the NAACP seems to understand the naiveté of pursuing Title II.
No one’s sure exactly where the Internet is going, how it’s going to evolve, and the ways that it will shape our future. What is important is the necessary conditions for improvement, including the freedom to grow and create. Regulating the Internet under Title II would be detrimental to future innovation.
Erik Telford is Senior Vice President at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.