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Bruce Dixon

excerpted from: Bruce Dixon, The Black Stake in the Internet: Network Neutrality is an African American Issue , (Last visited: May 13, 2006).

* * *

On April 27, [the] BC published two stories about CBC member Bobby Rush's sponsorship of this year's noxious telco legislation.  We explained how the Rush-Barton Act, also called the COPE Act or HR 5252, would kill off public access TV, strip towns and cities of the right to force cable monopolies to serve blacker and poorer areas in return for being able to do business in the wealthier parts of town, and allow companies to charge web sites like this one for allowing content or email to reach users.  We called attention to the acceptance of a million dollar donation by a tentacle of AT&T to a not for profit organization associated with the congressman.  All this earned us a call that morning from a Chicago-based defender of the congressman. 

BC was making a big mistake, the caller told us, by leading with the issue of network neutrality.  Our deeply misguided caller accused us of playing into the hands of white media activists.  Network neutrality, she said again and again in the course of an hour long conversation, was just not "our issue.” 

But when a black member of congress accepts a million dollar telco donation for a supposed community-based project in his district, and turns up as co-sponsor of telco legislation to redline and disempower black communities nationwide, along with suppressing everybody’s freedom of access to the Internet, it is indeed a black issue.  When AT&T rents black ministers and black Republican sock puppets like the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and even recruits the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to its team, network neutrality has very definitely become a black issue. 

The incongruity of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation finding itself in bed with AT&T, the American Conservative Union and the National Association of Manufacturers is downright striking when you look at who serves on the NCBCP Board of Directors.  To start with, there’s Dr. Howard Dean, whose campaign for president would have been impossible without a free and open Internet.  There are luminaries like Dr. Joseph Lowery and Dr. Ron Walters of the African American Leadership Institute.  We counted at least a dozen representatives of labor unions, including an assistant to AFL-CIO president John Sweeny, the and UFCW, AFCSME, SEIU, and both national teachers unions and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. 

* * *

if network neutrality becomes a black issue when telcos can buy, sell and rent black organizations, when a black congressmen accepts a million dollar telco donation and sponsors legislation that allows the industry to redline and disinvest in our communities, that's a black issue too. 

Bobby Rush, in his statement answering the Chicago Sun-Times offers the transparent legalistic defense to conflict of interest charges, that since the donation was from a single company and the legislation benefits several telcos, no conflict exists.  What else can you expect from a legislative body that elects its Speaker, its majority and minority leaders not on the basis of who has the most compelling vision for the nation and its people, but who can raise the largest number of corporate dollars?  To anyone not mired in the culture of corrupt public officialdom, Rush's position reeks of a conflict of interest, whether it meets the legal definition or not. 

The congressman, his donors, and their front organization, Hands Off the Internet claim that handing over the Internet to private corporations and eliminating network neutrality will lower the cost and improve the quality of Internet service for everybody.  This is nothing short of an outright lie.  According to Stanford University's Dr. Lawrence Lessig in a recent interview with Robert McChesney, broadband Internet access in France, Japan and South Korea and several other countries is cheaper, faster and more widely available than in the U.S.  In every case, they do this by making the provision of service to everyone law and public policy, not leaving it up to “the market” or the whims of private corporations. 

The whole “free competition” and “leaving it up to the market” argument flies in the face of how AT&T and other telco and cable monopolies came into existence and how they actually conduct their business.  As the Univeristy of Illinois's Dr. Robert McChesney explained recently on Democracy Now: 

”...the phone companies and the cable companies, which provide Internet access to 98% of Americans and almost all businesses, are viewing – you know, they are companies that were set up by the government.  They're not free market companies. Their entire business model has been based on getting monopoly license franchises from the government for phone and cable service and then using it to make a lot of money. And they’re using their political leverage now to try to write a law basically which lets them control the Internet...”

”...what they want to do desperately is be in a situation where they can rank order websites. And websites that come through the fastest to us, to the users of the Internet, (will be) ...the ones that pay them money or the ones they own. And websites that don't pay them come through slower, much harder to get, or in some cases, they’ll have the power to take them off the Internet altogether.”

”...there’s no technological justification for this. There’s no economic justification. It's pure corrupt crony capitalism. They're basically using their political leverage to change this so they get a huge new revenue stream, and it gives them an inordinate amount of power over the Internet.” 

In the interview, McChesney also discusses the impact of cable and Internet service to minority communities and how this will be affected by Rep. Rush's legislation. 

” of the core fundamental aspects of telecommunications policies historically... was the requirement that the phone companies, if they were going to get these monopoly licenses to make a pile of money, they had to serve the entire community. They couldn't discriminate against neighborhoods, against cities. They had to give universal access...they hate that. They basically want to serve just wealthy and middle class communities and skip poor and rural communities. And they’re trying to write it into the law that they can basically... redline, that they can be discriminatory about which communities they offer their best services to and only offer in the most lucrative communities. 

Congressman Rush concludes his defense by observing that “The real conflict here is America's unwillingness to invest much needed capital in (oppressed) communities like Englewood.”  His legislation though, allows telcos to deny our communities investment in their own communications infrastructureCheap, ubiquitous and comprehensive broadband access is as necessary to the economic well-being of our community as good streets.

By the time this BC article is printed, almost 700,000 Americans will have signed the petition against the telecom bill that Bobby Rush co-sponsored and NCBCP has endorsed.  We urge any BC reader who has not yet done so to add your name to the list.  By the time it comes to the House floor later this month, there may be a million signatures on the petition against it, despite the fact that no mainstream news outlet will cover the story.  Whether or not you’ve already emailed, do call your own representative in Congress today and tell him you oppose HR 5252.  Thanks to our readers and hundreds of thousands like you, the tide is turning against this atrocious legislation.

They say that the other superpower in the world today is public opinion, and that the only force stronger than organized money is organized people.  Given the wave of public revulsion at this naked grab for power and profit on the part of the telecom industry, it’s not at all too late for Bobby Rush to find a way to withdraw his sponsorship.  And it’s not too late for NCBCP to remove itself from the telecom front organization, and to undertake a general reconsideration, in light of its historic mission, of who it takes money from and why.


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