Net Neutrality, Indian Country and the Digital Divide
One of the biggest stories in the news last week was Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is defined by the Federal Communications Commission as “Open Internet;” although they make no mention of platforms or services. The FCC does not currently have jurisdiction to regulate the internet; hard to believe isn’t it?
Net Neutrality applied means that all service providers treat data transmitted on the internet equally, not prioritizing paid content or treating entities that transmit data differently from each other. A professor at Columbia University, Tim Wu, in this article, coined the term “Net Neutrality.” He has also published a book on this topic.
It is widely expected, that since the FCC cannot legally regulate the traffic on the internet that large telecommunications companies will create a tiered system of paid prioritization or “fast lanes.” Further implications indicate that a system of inequality of information will emerge, whereby those that can afford to pay for faster delivery of content will and those that cannot will have their content delivered at a slower rate.
In communities that already have limited access to the internet, what will this mean? Native American Communities have between 11% and 40% connectivity, yet the quality of that connectivity is likely that of dial-up (from a forthcoming study by Traci Morris and Miriam Jorgensen). If on top of poor access and poor quality, tribal community businesses and such would have to pay for faster delivery of content, what would that actually gain them? They would be doubly or triply disadvantaged. Further, in many Native communities there is still a digital literacy gap and general fear of technology, yet this technology is required in order to apply for employment, access job training, access basic health care, and access many other services.
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has written that the loss of Net Neutrality and the creation of a tiered system of access will create “second class citizenship,” stating in his blog for Common Cause:
“No American can be a fully-functioning citizen, nor can our country be a fully-functioning democracy, with an Internet where both access and content are controlled by gatekeepers more interested in the bottom line than in helping create opportunity for the rest of us. When an Internet Access Provider like Comcast or Verizon or a powerful online behemoth like Google can favor its content over the content of others; determine where you can go on the Net; prioritize the traffic of those willing to pay all that the traffic can bear; block content they don’t like; and extract outrageous prices from consumers and small businesses, then something has gone amiss.
Increasingly, people understand that the Internet is where we go to find jobs, pursue our education, care for our health, manage our finances, conserve energy, interact socially and— importantly—conduct our civic dialogue. All of which is to say that the Internet is central to our lives and our future.
Anyone not having these opportunities is going to be consigned to second-class citizenship. I think America’s minorities and diversity communities have had enough of second-class citizenship. Minority Americans, Native Americans, disabled Americans, and many others of different cultural and life-style backgrounds come immediately to mind. So, too, do citizens of the inner city and rural countryside, where the Internet’s tools are either unavailable or too costly to write into the household budget.”
The FCC has released a Fact Sheet and opened a comment window open for the public to weigh in on this topic. I urge you to read all you can about the issues at stake and take the time to comment. We have a chance to help define the future of communications in this country. Do we want companies with the deepest pockets to control access or do we want the internet to function as it is now, on a platform of innovation and equal access? You decide.
You may email the FCC about the Open Internet topic at this email: firstname.lastname@example.org