The Federal Communications Commission vote on Thursday to repeal net neutrality rules could stifle the voice of movements like #OscarsSoWhite from having an impact, Maya Wiley, senior vice president of Social Justice at The New School, told NewsOne. Black civil rights groups, which have been fighting this battle for years, are among those pushing back against the agency.
“It’s about democracy and equality,” Wiley explained. “#OscarsSoWhite and others raise issues that conventional news won’t cover. Think of it like an ethnic press.”
The 3-to-2 vote by the Republican-dominated FCC reverses an Obama-era rule that prevented telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast from creating pricing systems that discriminate against content from small companies or organizations. Under the repeal, deregulation of the industry means that the telecom companies, which control the internet’s infrastructure, could effectively silence some voices online.
It’s unlikely that a future #OscarsSoWhite movement will gain any momentum in the deregulated environment. April Reign made the first #OscarsSoWhite hashtag tweet from her living room in January 2015, according to NRP. It started a powerful movement that called for racial diversity in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which ended with unprecedented changes to the academy’s membership and voting rules. A deregulated internet environment could also prevent many small Black and Women-owned businesses from competing with large companies that could afford to pay higher prices for an internet fast lane. Wiley has serious doubts about the industry’s promise not to block websites. “They say ‘we won’t do that,’ but then why do they want the right to slow down web sites or silence them?” she asked rhetorically.
The NAACP condemned the FCC’s decision to deregulate the industry, saying that the organization opposes “any attempt to censor or manipulate information on the internet, especially if it creates a barrier to entry for people of color.” Wiley said civil rights groups have been fighting this battle for a long time. In the 1990s, the civil right community raised issues about the digital divide. They protested when companies like AT&T and Verizon updated phone lines to facilitate internet connection for White suburbs and bypassed homes in Black communities. “You can expect to see a lot of engagement by the Black community on reversing the repeal,” said Wiley, who’s also an advocate of broadband equality. She noted that civil rights groups are not alone in this battle. Several state attorneys general are vowing to file lawsuits against the FCC, and civil liberties groups are also mobilizing.