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Why is the NAACP Siding with Verizon Over Net Neutrality?

Alex Nogales, National Latino Media Council

By Gerry Smith

The NAACP and several other major civil rights groups have emerged as flashpoints in the debate over net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

More than 40 civil rights groups are supporting broadband providers that oppose strict net neutrality rules. The civil rights groups say they’re siding with the Internet giants because it’s in the best interest of minority communities.

Yet critics say many of those groups are against stronger net neutrality rules because they’ve received substantial funding from Internet providers. Many of the civil rights groups currently siding with the broadband giants also supported the controversial Comcast-NBC Universal merger, came out in favor of AT&T’s failed takeover of T-Mobile in 2011, and supported broadband providers the last time the Federal Communications Commission ruled on net neutrality back in 2010.

While all the civil rights groups say that net neutrality is a good idea, they disagree on how to enforce it. Some groups, including Color of Change and the Center for Media Justice, want the FCC to have more authority over Internet providers to ensure those providers don’t discriminate against certain content. They also say that if net neutrality is weakened and Internet providers are allowed to charge companies to speed up their traffic, it will lead to higher costs being passed on to consumers — which could have a disproportionate effect on minorities, many of whom already struggle to afford basic broadband connections.

Other groups, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, side with Internet providers and oppose subjecting those companies to greater oversight. They claim strict net neutrality rules would deter broadband companies from expanding service in their communities, preventing more minorities from adopting the Internet.

But some civil rights leaders say the different opinions are more than just an honest policy dispute. Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a media watchdog group, claims that many minority groups side with Internet providers on net neutrality because they fear they will lose funding otherwise.

“If you have programs with any of these companies, you feel beholden to go along with what they believe,” said Nogales, whose group supports strict net neutrality rules.

Civil rights groups tend to play an influential role when the government makes policy decisions that affect communities of color, so their stance on net neutrality is significant. The FCC has made it a top priority to ensure that minorities have equal access to the Internet and aren’t left behind in the digital age.

Earlier this month, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, a nonprofit that aims to promote civil rights, filed comments with the FCC on behalf of more than 40 minority groups. The letter sided with Internet providers in opposing strict net neutrality rules that subject those companies to more oversight.

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