Fostering diversity in, and minority access to, channels of communication has long been a key goal of the Federal Communications Commission. In practice, this all too often has been interpreted to mean ownership limits, set-asides, preferences and other mandates imposed by the agency. Usually lost in the heated debates is the fact that ill-considered regulation itself can impede minority access and diversity.
In comments filed at the FCC last week, a group of sixteen minority and civil rights organizations — ranging from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to the National Conference of Black Mayors — argue that FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules on Internet providers may do just that. “[T]his proceeding implicates one of the most important civil rights issues of our time,” the comments –written by David Honig of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council — assert.
Minorities lag behind in broadband adoption, the comments point out, and thus have the most to gain by its growth and the most to lose if that growth is hindered. Among the more specific possible harms cited: higher prices, slowed deployment, and slower job growth, all of which would be especially harmful to minorities. Net neutrality regulation, Honig writes, could become yet another in a long line of facially neutral government policies that hurt the most disadvantaged in society rather than help them.
“The lesson from these experiences is clear,” he says:
…even apparently universal and neutral federal programs can widen existing disparities. As we now continue the transition into a digital age, the Commission should ensure that its efforts to promote a free and open Internet for all do not end up leaving minorities and other groups lacking equal access to broadband behind.
Definitely worth reading.