Contributed by -

Derrick Johnson

President & CEO National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been a sustaining voice throughout its 109-year history for justice, equal opportunity, and an end to discrimination.  Many have tried to silence our voice.  Many have failed.  Still, the fight continues. 

Today, we face yet another grave attempt to quiet our message and mission as a result of regulations that curtail an open and free internet.  The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to end net neutrality threatens the civil rights of African Americans and other disenfranchised communities by effectively denying access to information for the poor, sanctioning censorship by the politically motivated, and supporting a system that is inherently unfair.

Few can deny that internet access has become essential to creating economic opportunity, galvanizing social action, and spurring innovation for individuals as well as the communities and nations in which they live.  The internet has the power to democratize information, allowing us to communicate instantly and mobilize efficiently.  In recent years, the internet has proven instrumental as a catalyst for social justice movements not only in America, but around the world.

 A free and open internet is crucial to our ever-forward march for civil rights and equality.  An open internet speeds and coordinates communication with our 2,200 NAACP branches across the country.  An open internet allows us to organize in hours, as compared to weeks or months, and raise our collective voice for beneficial change.  Most important, an open internet educates, thus enabling African Americans to take advantage of the civic, economic, and creative opportunities otherwise afforded only to the entitled.

The internet, and other communications technologies like it, must continue to be firmly rooted in our nation’s democratic and free speech principles as expressly cited in NAACP national policies, as well as the United States Constitution.

Free speech is essential to our democracy.  Participation equally is essential to our democracy.  Both are compromised by the FCC’s decision that now bifurcates the internet into the rich who can afford access and the poor who are relegated to lesser or no service options; to the powerful who can censor content and the disenfranchised who cannot get their voice, or video, heard or seen. 

The NAACP stands opposed to Discriminatory Prioritization.  Simply put, no service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee.  Similarly, individuals should not be required to pay additional and potentially prohibitive fees for internet with speeds supportive of videos and dense content.  Nor should a person be blocked from content and sites, or barred from exchanging data due to the ever-rising costs of service.

The NAACP stands opposed to Blocking.  If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) should not be permitted to block access.  The NAACP stands opposed to Throttling.  With the FCC’s recent decision, ISPs now have the right to intentionally slow down some content or speed up other content of their choosing by means of a process called throttling that allows for content selection based on the type of service or the ISP’s preferences. 

The NAACP strongly affirms its support for increased transparency.  The connection between consumers and ISPs – the so-called “last mile” – is not the only place some sites might get special treatment.  The NAACP is committed to policies that break down all barriers to internet entry that prevent people of color, the economically disadvantaged and other Americans from taking advantage of the civic, economic, and creative opportunities enabled by comprehensive broadband internet services.

Net neutrality is now compromised. ISP gatekeepers are able to remove or otherwise modify information that we obtain across the internet.  The powerful images and voices seen and heard on social media of young, unarmed Black men brutally killed have galvanized communities that have strengthened our movement for justice.  Imagine, for a moment, that such images are inaccessible to communities, or wholly blocked.  This is a very real possibility with the end of net neutrality. 

The NAACP denounces the FCC’s decision to eliminate critical safeguards for ensuring an accessible internet.  The internet fuels economic opportunity, civic engagement, and social action.  It allows instant communication and public discourse, fuels innovative, and results in impactful action for social justice.

Yet, with the FCC’s decision, economic opportunity, civic engagement, social action and public discourse have taken a back seat to the profit margins of large corporations.  The average American citizen is second in line to his or her wealthier neighbor.  The result is greater disparity between rich, the middle class and the poor.  The educational gaps will widen, the disenfranchised will be further marginalized, and opportunities for advancement will be ever more limited.

We will not stand for the FCC’s decision, and will continue our fight for an open internet that serves all Americans equally and effectively.  We will continue our call for justice and inclusion.

For, in the end, the FCC’s decision has compromised the internet, but it has not weakened the voice of the NAACP.  We remain strong.  And we will not be silenced.

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