Comcast chief executive Neil Smit (left) and LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes (center). Smit has been tapped to lead the merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.
Comcast chief executive Neil Smit (left) and LULAC executive director Brent Wilkes (center).

Last Friday, just before the Federal Communication Commission closed its comment period for its upcoming rule on “network neutrality,” a massive coalition of Asian, Latino and Black civil rights group filed letters arguing that regulators should lay off of Internet Service Providers regarding Title II reclassification and accept FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s original plan. In other words, something close to half of the entire civil rights establishment just sold out the Internet.

The civil rights group letters argue that Title II reclassification of broadband services as a public utility — the only path forward for real net neutrality after a federal court ruling in January — would somehow “harm communities of color.” The groups wrote to the FCC to tell them that “we do not believe that the door to Title II should be opened.” Simply put, these groups, many of which claim to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr., are saying that Comcast and Verizon should be able to create Internet slow lanes and fast lanes, and such a change would magically improve the lives of non-white Americans.

The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Urban League, the National Council on Black Civil Participation and the National Action Network. The other features the Council of Korean Americans, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Black Farmers Association, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Coalition, and many more.

Of course, the groups listed on these filings do not speak for all communities of color on telecom policy, and there are civil rights groups out there that actually support net neutrality, including Color of Change and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. Joseph Torres with Free Press told VICE that communities of color believe a free and open Internet is essential in the digital age, especially when most non-whites do not own radio stations, broadcast outlets or other forms of mass media. “Protecting real net neutrality is critical for people of color because an open Internet gives us the opportunity to speak for ourselves without having to ask corporate gatekeepers for permission,” Torres says.

A number of K Street consultants have helped make this epic sell-out possible.

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) coordinated many of the participants in the anti-net neutrality filings sent to the FCC last week. Last year, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation of MMTC, showing that the group has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Verizon, Comcast, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and other telecom sources while reliably peddling the pro-telecom industry positions. For instance, the group attacked the Obama administration’s first attempt at net neutrality, while celebrating the proposed (and eventually successful) merger between Comcast and NBC.

Martin Chavez, the former Mayor of Albuquerque, now works with a group called the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) to corral Latino civil rights groups into opposing net neutrality. Last month, Chavez hosted a net neutrality event on Capitol Hill to call on legislators to oppose Title II reclassification. As TIME recently reported, Chavez is on staff with one of Verizon’s lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group.

“HTTP is nothing more than an industry front-group that is at best misinformed and at worst intentionally distorting facts as it actively opposes efforts to better serve the communications needs of Latinos,” says Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which strongly supports net neutrality. His group has filed its own letter to the FCC.

Still, telecom cash has become a vital source of funding for cash-starved nonprofits. OCA, the Asian American civil rights nonprofit formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans, counts Comcast as a major donor and sponsor for its events and galas. Not only did OCA go on to sign the anti-net neutrality letter last Friday, the group wrote a similar filing to the FCC in 2010, claiming absurdly that Asian American entrepreneurs would benefit from having ISPs able to discriminate based on content. Similarly, League of United Latin American Citizens, better known simply as LULAC, has been a dependable ally of the telecom industry while partnering with Comcast for a $5 million civic engagement campaign. Here’s a picture of LULAC proudly accepting a jumbo-sized check from AT&T.

As VICE first reported, telecoms are desperate for third party approval, and have even resorted to fabricating community support for their anti-net neutrality lobbying campaign.

Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishment have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and other telecom companies have donated, either directly or through a company foundation, to nearly every group listed on the anti-net neutrality letters filed last week. We saw a similar dynamic play out with Wal-Mart when the retailer handed out cash to civil rights groups in order to buy support for opening stores in urban areas.

Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.

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  • Kristal High

    The assumption that all civil rights groups – or people of color – have to view the best way to protect and preserve an open Internet the same way is beyond paternalistic. It’s insulting to insinuate that we have to be some sort of monolith, and if we dare question or disagree with certain ideas we’re somehow shilling or selling out. PLEASE! How can you profess to care about the diverse voices that an open Internet makes possible, when countless man-hours are spent trying to undermine the very voices that pose an alternative view to what has become the “party line” on net neutrality.

    To be clear, none of these groups listed advocate for fast and slow lanes. In fact, if you actually read the filing from the National Minority Organizations, you’d see that they encourage the FCC to adopt a rebuttable presumption AGAINST paid prioritization unless there’s proof of some sort of public benefit, like in the case of telemedicine or public safety apps. Furthermore, even before “net neutrality” became the cause of the day, civil rights groups have been advocating for a variety of measures to increase broadband adoption, digital literacy, and Internet entrepreneurial opportunities.

    For once, let’s try digging deeper and not taking the easy way out on critique. Instead of wasting time attacking folks based on who may or may not be their financial supporters (by the way, Free Press & Public Knowledge see big gains in their bottom lines when net neutrality fervor hits fever pitch), let’s get to the merits.

    • Alexander2

      I read this at the Nation which doesn’t allow comments on this piece. I came here hoping to see a thoughtful response. Thank you!

    • paultheprogressive

      Read the letter they wrote. The term “unreasonable” is used – that’s an open invitation to discriminate. Exactly who gets to decide what is reasonable? Let’s keep the internet open. Period.

      Funding for special projects is a form of bribery. Increased access or broadband adoption, digital literacy and internet entrepreneurial opportunity will be hollow if the only things allowed are defined by others.

    • fightinfilipino

      A “rebuttable presumption” is an automatic win for the entrenched monolpoly telecoms! Even the wording “reasonable” is too weak! Rather than fostering any sort of open internet, your groups responses simply bolster the same tired story of three overly-powerful corporations holding all of the keys to the internet. You profess to support an open internet but support tying the FCC’s hands and allowing the Comcasts and the Time Warners of the world to make any argument that’s “reasonable” to discriminate on internet traffic and create fast lanes.

      People HAVE dug deeper and discovered that the telecoms hold insufferable monopolies. This has to end.

      • Kristal High

        You do realize that Title II doesn’t prevent monopolies, right? Like all common carriage regulations, it just provides the terms by which government can regulate the monopolies it approves.

        The “reasonable” wording comes straight from the 1996 Telecommunications Act — Title II prohibits “unjust and unreasonable” discrimination, while the new rules the FCC is proposing prohibits “commercially unreasonable” discrimination. By the way, Chairman Wheeler has already stated that paid prioritization is commercially unreasonable.

        The Internet has never been treated as a Title II monopoly, and we’ve benefitted tremendously from it – as is. Going down this route would not address the very thing with which you seem most concerned.

        • Afr0

          Your words are hollow because you’re simply trying to obfuscate the issue. Excessive verbiage is meaningless here. The Internet was created as an OPEN network, and should be supported and treated as such. Stopping Verizon/AT&T/Comcast/TWC and the rest of the crew from converting into another form of cable television type of content delivery service is a “by any means necessary” imperative.

          That fact that you are willingly “mouthpiece-ing” for groups who are actively trying to disregard the very simple premise of net neutrality is pretty pathetic.

    • RickRollington

      Calling this sad money-grab for what it is, a short-sighted and unwise move that will wind up hurting these groups in the long run, isn’t paternalistic you goofball. If you want to be a clueless tool for multinational billionaire corporations that’s your business, but you should expect to be called on it.

  • Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt

    “Perhaps the bigger picture here is how so many of the old civil rights establishment have become comfortable with trading endorsements for cash…. Times have changed. Just as Martin Luther King Jr.’s children have embarrassingly descended into fighting bitterly over what’s left of his estate, the civil rights groups formed to advance Dr. King’s legacy seem willing to sell out their own members for a buck.”

    What a bunch of bunk!

    So in sum, what you are saying is that leaders of black and Hispanic civil rights organizations lack integrity.

    It never occurred to you that perhaps there is a process and that these groups independently reviewed the issues, took into consideration all factors, weighed the issues of most concern to their constituencies, discussed the matter, circulated thought pieces on all sides of the issues among coalition members and debated the merits, taking into account different perspectives before eventually arriving at a consensus???

    Would you rather just prefer to assume minority organizations lack the intellectual ability to think out policy issues and arrive at a decision on their own?

    You are also assuming that those who support your side are not also being funded and are not parroting puppet positions. Nope. It’s just the other guys who are against your position. How convenient.

    How about instead we stick with a healthy debate on the merits of this issue and cease with the insulting characterizations of those who disagree.

    • James V. Weldon

      Do you even understand the issue of net neutrality? If this isn’t a sell-out, what is it?

      • Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt

        How ridiculously insulting. Of course, I understand the issue of Net Neutrality. I am a telecommunications attorney and have been intimately involved in telecom and regulatory law since 1996. The question is: Do YOU understand the issue of Net Neutrality?

        • Afr0

          It’s quite simple, really. If YOU don’t support the concept of net neutrality and/or are willing to allow ISPs to disregard it, then it’s pretty clear that you, in fact, do NOT understand it.

    • fightinfilipino

      “So in sum, what you are saying is that leaders of black and Hispanic civil rights organizations lack integrity.”

      SOME leaders of certain self-labeled civil rights groups lack integrity. And the article is correct. There are a number of groups supporting equality and antidiscrimination efforts. Not surprisingly, these groups are being shouted down by the groups listed here who have accepted telecom money and *sold out*.

      This is incredibly disappointing.

  • Justin Vélez-Hagan

    I almost decided not to respond to this piece, given the other two commenters below well-rebutted the author’s views. However, as the founder of one of the organizations that you mention in the article, perhaps it is my duty to do so.

    The National Puerto Rican Chamber was established to support and defend opportunities for entrepreneurship and economic development for Puerto Ricans and Hispanics, and, occasionally we join the fight with other orgs to influence Washington DC policy. As an organization, we have been tempted to take funds, under the premise that we reciprocate by supporting a policy of import to our new “corporate partner,” however, to date, we have yet to do so. In fact, we have never accepted any money from a telecom or other org that could be purported to be against “net neutrality,” or reclassification by the FCC under the Title II Act.

    That being said, I hope that people will realize that what one of the commenters said is entirely true of most, if not all of the organizations that agreed to support and sign onto the MMTC filing against Title II reclassification. Yes, whenever we consider supporting a policy we have to ensure that our support falls in line with our mission and, in general, it has to be approved by our boards who have little personal gain to be had from any potential sponsor.

    For my organization, it didnt’ take much research to realize how detrimental the vast increases in regulations and oversight could be to budding entrepreneurs and economic development in Puerto Rico or throughout the mainland. As an economic policy analyst, it’s intuitive to me. The more difficult it is to comply with the law, the more costly it is do business, the less attractive it is to invest and make a profit. For this reason, if internet service providers are required to comply with a highly-regulatory archaic law, they will be less likely to invest in expanding and improving service, or less able to as costs rise, will be more likely to cut costs elsewhere (employment), and that reduced service will affect the millions of entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of growing opportunities on the internet.

    Now if you consider that those who disproportionately benefit from expanded investment in telecom and the internet are “communities of color” like Puerto Ricans, one can easily see how it becomes a natural alignment for so many of our orgs. From speaking with the heads of so many of these orgs, who are good people who so often give up so much to dedicate their lives to the cause of their organization, it would take one giant leap to make the claim that they would suddenly “sell out” for a dollar. Maybe I’m naive and too trustful to assume that so many of these great leaders truly believe in what they say they do, but after getting to know so many of them, I can’t help but think so highly of and admire so many of them.

    It may be hard for you to consider that people have legitimate reasons for opposing something you believe in, but if you take a minute to consider the reasoning, and perhaps some of the evidence, it might not be as difficult for you and so many others to realize how important to our country’s economy it is to not disrupt one of the few industries that is allows for so many opportunities.

    • wecandobetter758

      I appreciate what you are saying, but the fact is that what Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are pushing for will have a far greater disruptive influence on the Internet as we know it than reclassifying the Internet as a telecommunications service would.

      You are concerned with regulation and enforcement, and the “burdens” they place on corporations. I am concerned with the availability of information, services, and products to people of limited means. But most especially information. What the big telecoms are seeking is the ability to determine how (and what) information reaches their customers. Combine the ability to choose who gets fast and slow lanes for their information with the fact that all of these major players are now also producing (and skewing) content, and you have a recipe for information control that is unprecedented in history.

      Such a situation is dangerous to democracy, to liberty, and to free speech; elections are already being manipulated by those with the financial means to do so. Take away our access to unfettered information, and we will no longer be able to make informed decisions on our own behalf. It’s bad enough now, and if the FCC makes the wrong decision and allows telecoms to have their way, it will get far, far worse – for everyone else.

      • steveannie

        Exactly! I have already had all my e-mails from MoveOn.org blocked by my former ISP, AT&T, for about a year after MoveOn sent it’s first message with “Internet Neutrality” in the subject line. Telecoms have a dangerous level of power in this country and need to be regulated more, not less.

    • ScottNAtlanta

      My God…that read like Comcast handed you the talking points. Please name some of these “burdensome” regulations that will cost businesses more. I’ll tell you what will cost small businesses more. They will have to pay for prioritization. That is happening now. Netflix and I am sure others are paying. We dont know because these agreements are secret (Netflix made theirs public).
      If the FCC doesn’t have title II regulatory authority over what is a monopoly of broadband in most areas, costs go up and up (a familiar thing for most of us already), and service and speeds stagnate. This directly impacts lower income people who get priced out of what should be looked at as a utility. You cant get a job these days without the internet.
      Oh, and if you think these companies wont abuse the rules…lets look at Verizon who stated publicly that they will throttle people with unlimited data…why? It costs them more and they dont want to have to pay for it. Under “network management” principles, if there is a network problem, is it solved by only throttling these people. No, it is not. Of course, if these people switch to limited data plans…no more throttle. Thats the world without “burdensome” regulation.
      Your talking points are old. Someone should update them.

  • Tracyrose

    It seems to me that these responses are largely missing the point. Paid prioritization on the Internet (whether deemed commercially reasonable by the FCC or not) does not actually benefit independent artists and musicians, not for profit groups (as most of these groups are), ethnic and community media outlets and neighborhood small businesses. It makes it a whole lot harder for them to use the power of digital communication to build and promote their enterprises because there is no neutral playing field. When you look at economic inequity and how it manifests by race, then it is pretty clear that a pay to play Internet is going to reduce the digital presence and digital voice of Hispanics, African-Americans, Pilipinos and others who by the statistics, have less personal and financial resources in aggregate. Reclassification is, in the opinion of a huge chunk of public interest attorneys, the only way to prevent paid prioritization and the evidence bears that out. The FCC tried to stop content degradation and the FCC got told in court it didn’t have the authority to do so because Internet service were *not classified as common carriers in Title II*. What do you wanna bet that is going to happen again? Trying to re-exert authority the courts already told you you didn’t have is not a good regulatory strategy and despite what AT&T and Comcast may want us to believe, it isn’t going to work any better the second time around than it did the first. In other words, the call not to reclassify is really just a call to privatize the Internet by proposing a failed regulatory protocol that didn’t work, hasn’t worked, and that the large corporations firmly believe they can defeat. With reason, because they already did. So it’s not a question of bravely opposing political correctness. It’s a question of giving cover to a cynical strategy by huge corporations that a fake regulatory structure is a real regulatory structure when its not. The only way to avoid fast and slow lanes on the Internet is to reclassify Internet services as broadband carriers.

    Tracy Rosenberg
    Media Alliance
    http://www.media-alliance.org

    • Kristal High

      At the risk of sounded redundant, the groups being attacked in this article are not calling for paid prioritization, and they, in fact, discourage it except in limited instances in which the burden would be on the ISP and content creator to demonstrate that such an arrangement benefits the public interest.

      To your other points, the D.C. Circuit also said that section 706 of the Telecom Act would endow the FCC with authority to enforce it’s proposed regulations, particularly with the added modification that Chairman Wheeler is suggesting that “commercially unreasonable” (rather than just unreasonable – the Title II label) discrimination, be prohibited.

      Further, Title II would not prevent paid prioritization, if, indeed, that is the route the FCC takes. Title II prohibits discrimination among like or functionally equivalent services. It does not prohibit differentiation among services.

      As a lawyer, policy analyst, and Internet entrepreneur, it seems that the Title II remedy does not, in fact, address the harm it’s meant to remedy.

      • Tracyrose

        Unfortunately your information is inaccurate. The charge of being “attacked” is an emotional reaction and of course it’s awful that the article made anyone feel that way. But the reality is that the FCC will not be able to prevent paid prioritization with its hands tied behind its back. Been there, done that. It didn’t work. The court told the FCC that Internet services could not be regulated as common carriers unless they are categorized as common carriers. This doesn’t mean that the Internet is the same as Ma Bell. It isn’t and there is a technical term called forbearance that allows Title II to be implemented for 21st century services. But there is absolutely no question that fast lanes and slow lanes on the Internet can only be regulated using the regulatory protocol in Title II. And that ordinary people without the massive resources of huge corporations behind them won’t recognize the slow lane as the Internet they have grown to depend on.

        Tracy Rosenberg

        Media Alliance

        From the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: “However, the court struck down the “anti-blocking” and “anti-discrimination” rules, explaining that theCommission had chosen an impermissible mechanism by which to implement its legitimate goals. Specifically, the court held that the Commission had imposed per se common carriage requirements on
        providers of Internet access services.47 Such treatment was impermissible because the Commission had classified fixed broadband Internet access service as an information service, not a telecommunications service, and had classified mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service rather than a commercial mobile service.48 The court remanded the case to the Commission for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

      • fightinfilipino

        As a lawyer, you of all people should know the term “reasonable” can and often is stretched and expanded by companies AND attorneys of all stripes.

        NOW is the time to put our foot down. NOW is the time to ensure that not just a few megacorporations have a stranglehold on the internet!

      • Barksdale

        You forgot big telecom lobbyist when you listed your “impressive” credentials there.

    • mannapat

      Also, anything that the FCC does to “improve” the internet should have a sunset attached to it. At the end of a year, it dissolves, unless voted in again, with a continuous sunset built in. If the experiment doesn’t make the Users happy, it disappears…or the agency members do.

    • http://newdispweb.com/ Ms. J. S. Butler

      I can agree with that. As a co-founder of one of the CLECs that was squashed by the incumbents in 2000 [there were many of us], I know for a fact that they will twist the language until it fits their goal. At that time, the Internet was still new, but VPNs and broadband weren’t among the services that we could buy wholesale and resell to our customers. When you think about it, AT&T and the Bells [they were re-merging during the late 90s] opposed the mom-and-pop ISPs. The next thing you knew they WERE the ISP.

      Another thing no one has mentioned is the fact that this was supposed to be the opportunity for the FCC to open a way for minority companies to become broadband carriers, with the same or higher level of support that we had when Clinton passed the Telecom Act in ’96. There’s a concerted attempt at making sure that no minority company [whether African-American, Hispanic or otherwise] has a secure entree into the carrier side of the business. That’s what we need to fight, because if you are the carrier, like you said, you are in control at all times.

  • Bruce

    “The filings reveal a who’s who of civil rights groups willing to shill on behalf of the telecom industry. One filing lists prominent civil rights groups NAACP,
    the League of United Latin American Citizens,
    the Urban League,
    the National Council on Black Civil Participation
    and the National Action Network.
    The other features the Council of Korean Americans,
    the Japanese American Citizens League,
    the National Black Farmers Association,
    Rainbow PUSH Coalition,
    OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates,
    the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce,
    the Latino Coalition, and many more.”
    – BECAUSE the $ELLOUT$ bear repeating, for lying down against their own interests!

  • Joan Harris

    Interesting…FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent an email stating that he will fight to keep the internet open. This was in response to a petition I signed and a statement I made supporting net neutrality. I received the email this past week. If keeping the internet open is the equivalent of net neutrality then that is big news and yet I haven’t seen any reporting on his statement. Please, if anyone has information that supports my email, join in!!!

    • Alan8

      “FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent an email stating that he will fight to keep the internet open.”

      Wheeler has been saying this all along, while working furiously to implement paid Internet “fast lanes” for the rich corporate interests that can afford them.

      There’s a reason for this: Tom Wheeler is lying.

      Wheeler is a corporate shill that has been appointed to a powerful government position; a particularly obvious manifestation of fascism. His deceit makes him unqualified (an understatement) for such a responsible position.

      FIRE THE LIAR!

  • mannapat

    Money always talks, doesn’t it?

  • paultheprogressive

    I wonder how their bank accounts look now.

  • http://newdispweb.com/ Ms. J. S. Butler

    This is so typical of the alleged ‘civil rights’ groups today, it’s beyond scary. The dollar, or lack thereof, has caused the demise and co-opting of hundreds of organizations. They still wave a banner of fighting for the people while simultaneously sticking the payoffs in their pockets as fast as they can. There are many groups among the mentioned in this article that are well-known among the general population for taking money from anyone, then dancing accordingly. In the meantime, we the people continue to suffer, thinking that the cavalry is coming to save us. Guess what, people? IT WON’T HAPPEN; SAVE YOURSELVES, AND BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.

  • R.E.

    If anything, civil rights groups should be against segregating the Internet because it would cause more inequality.

  • junebugjabowilkins

    Clearly post “civil right leaders” have not enter the 21st Century and have no idea of what they are dealing with due to their dependencies upon the corporate tits. They have not groomed younger cadre to replace them.
    |
    They have no idea what they are agreeing to. It is just about the money for them. Besides, some of the bread in butter depends upon not solving problems.

    And just so we clear. I am a political progressive who fights for progressive political and economic change. Guys like Jesse James Jackson fights for the “static quo.”

  • http://theendofpornbywire.org/ curtisneeley

    The “enter net” has never been anything besides illegal, unregulated interstate and world-wide communications by wire. There has NEVER been a “unique and wholly new medium” like culturally senile SCOTUS alleged to describe in 1997. Telegraph machines and “fax” machines were simply replaced by computers attached to wires.

    This is too obvious to simply admit as factual by porn-addicted Article III oligarchs.
    http://theendofpornbywire.org/

  • MMTC

    Most of the assertions given as facts in this article and the author’s follow-up are false. In light of this, MMTC has taken the unusual step of providing a full rebuttal.

    Our full press release: http://mmtconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/MMTC-Press-Statement-Open-Internet-Allegations-080714.pdf

    Document rebutting the 16 false, misleading, unsupported, or libelous statements in both of Mr. Fang’s articles: http://broadbandandsocialjustice.org/2014/08/sixteen-false-misleading-unsupported-or-libelous-statements-in-republic-articles-on-minority-organizations-and-the-open-internet-proceeding/

    Rev. Jesse Jackson’s statement on the recent public attacks on national civil rights organizations: http://rainbow.3cdn.net/62fd48e66824f9f6ce_l9m6id0ii.pdf

    A more balanced article on our open Internet stance: http://www.multichannel.com/rev-jackson-decries-smear-campaigns-media-mobs/383100

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