From jobs to civil rights, when the interests of poor and underrepresented communities are threatened, we've counted on the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to step up and advocate for what's right. Now we need them again -- this time in the fight to save the Internet from telephone and cable companies that want to control what you can see and do online.
It's a critical battle -- no new technology has ever had as much potential as the Internet for lifting up minority and poor communities politically, economically, educationally, and culturally.
Sadly, many in the CBC have taken positions that would snuff out that potential. Most on the wrong side have simply been taken in by the lies of telecommunications industry lobbyists. But others have taken large financial contributions from telecoms and appear to be willingly carrying water for their biggest donors.
It's unacceptable, whatever the reason. The CBC needs to understand that Internet freedom is in the vital interest of vulnerable communities. That's why I've joined my friends at ColorOfChange.org in calling on the Congressional Black Caucus to support strong rules protecting Internet freedom. Will you add your voice, as well?
The threat to the Internet
At issue are rules designed to protect Internet freedom. This simple principle is the reason the Internet is so diverse, and so powerful. It means anyone's website can compete on equal footing with the biggest corporations.
That has allowed countless minority entertainers, writers, politicians and entrepreneurs to thrive online. For the first time in history, everyday Americans of every stripe can communicate with a global audience without prohibitive costs or permission from government or industry.
But big broadband providers want to create a new system where they can charge large fees to speed up some data while leaving those who can't afford to pay behind -- and irrelevant. Such a system would give wealthier voices the power to drown out or silence poorer voices, stunting the Internet's amazing equalizing potential.
Thankfully, some in the CBC -- Chairwoman Barbara Lee, along with Representatives Waters, Edwards, Conyers, Payne and Ellison -- have arisen to champion Internet freedom. Their leadership should be applauded.
But corporate lobbyists are targeting Black lawmakers and organizations, and sadly, many have been misled by the persistent stream of misinformation into taking positions against this policy.
While some have been misled, others appear to have significant donor relationships with the telecommunications industry, and have taken leading roles in attacking Internet freedom:
Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) -- For years, AT&T and Verizon have been among Meeks' biggest donors. In October 2009, he collected 70 signatures from his colleagues on an industry-backed letter -- written after consulting AT&T -- designed to weaken support for Internet freedom.
Meeks may claim that his major motivation is protecting jobs. But there's no credible evidence that the protecting Internet freedom will lead to job losses or decreased investment -- in fact, evidence suggests the contrary. But in the face of massive support from telecoms, it appears that Meeks has only truly considered one side of the argument.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) -- From 2001 -- 2004, AT&T (Rush's 3rd largest donor) donated $1 million to a community center Rush founded in Chicago. Since then, Rush has been a leader in the effort to kill Internet freedom. In 2006, Rush helped convince many members of the CBC to kill a measure that would have enshrined Internet freedom into law. And since 2006, he has supported other attacks on Internet freedom protections.
Some cynical voices may say that this appearance of quid pro quo is unremarkable because it's just the way Washington works. But we must demand more of our elected representatives, especially those who claim to represent the interests of Black communities as the legacy of the civil rights movement and the "conscience of the Congress."
No new technology has ever had the potential the Internet does to empower Black and other underserved communities. Help protect it for all of us, not just the wealthy. Please join me and the ColorOfChange.org community in asking the Congressional Black Caucus to support Internet Freedom rules: