The internet was founded on the principles of openness and nondiscrimination. Net neutrality, was, and can continue to be, the key making these principles work. That’s why Internet Association recently filed a nonparty intervenor brief in Mozilla’s case against the FCC to restore net neutrality provisions online. Promoting innovation, fostering competition, and helping consumers are the commonly reported benefits of the open and free internet net neutrality enables.
And those matter. A lot. What matters equally and is rarely, and is seldom discussed, however, is that communities of color are disproportionately impacted because of the end of this policy.
In all areas, from climate change, highway construction, to even giving birth, people of color, especially black people, are often treated differently and subjected to disproportionately negative impacts. There’s no reason to believe the end of net neutrality would be any different.
Polling shows that net neutrality — the principle that allows consumers to have equal access to the entire internet — is favored by most Americans. This includes strong, enforceable rules that ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of online content by internet service providers. Absent from the conversation on the importance of neutrality, however, is the disproportionate impact the end of net neutrality will likely have on communities of color.
The most likely outcome of repealing net neutrality rules is the stifling of minority voices online.
America is experiencing a renaissance in cultural representation. By now, most Americans have visited Wakanda for a second time via Avengers: Infinity War. The fictional setting for “Black Panther” in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe depicts an untouched, technologically advanced African country.
The movie, featuring a mostly black cast and a black director with a diverse set of characters, was a giant leap forward for representation of black people in film, especially as it relates to futurism. Carvell Wallace noted in The New York Times that typical imaginations of the future written by white men “tended to carry the power dynamics of the present into perpetuity.”
The largest pushback from those typical tropes and ongoing white narrative, which ignores the absence of black people and black voices, gained traction on the internet.
Continuing with the same tired depictions proved unsustainable with black Twitter organizing around and discussing #OscarsSoWhite. Similarly, the internet gave millions of black folks a space to shape the culture and highlight a spectrum of black interests.
On a typical day, a person can get news, culture, and more from sites like VerySmartBrothas, Blativity, and theGrio without scratching the surface of black offerings. Many of these sites and their writers often started without backing from major media companies. In an internet without net neutrality, that type of innovation for largely marginalized communities may not be possible.
Most television media, in contrast, is owned by a handful of companies. And it’s not surprising that most current depictions of black families and blackness in the mainstream media are usually untrue and unflattering — reinforcing negative stereotypes and existing power structures. One study found that news media portrayed black families as poor in 59 percent of depictions of impoverished people in its programming. Similarly, black people are depicted as more criminal and whites as far less criminal than the statistics bear out in reality.
Net neutrality would essentially make the internet like television. It would put a handful of ISPs in a similar position and allow them to play gatekeeper between consumers and the content on the internet. An internet with gatekeepers is not an internet anyone wants. It is hard to imagine content made by or for people of color being promoted in this context.
People don’t have to look any further than broadband access — or the lack thereof — in minority communities to see what’s at stake. A report from Free Press found that while 81 percent of whites have home internet access, only 68 percent of blacks and 70 percent of Hispanics do. Even after accounting for differences in income, age, and education, minority communities still lack equal access to home internet.
In a reality where communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the end of net neutrality, it’s even more critical that we preserve strong net neutrality protections that allow Americans, not ISPs, the ability to choose which websites and apps they can access and use.
Sean Perryman is the director of diversity and inclusion policy and counsel at Internet Association, which represents the world’s leading internet companies. Nadeska Alexis is the executive producer of Complex’s Everyday Struggles, Host of Beats 1, and a Full Color 50 Leader.
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