Monday, September 8, 2014

#NetNeutrality: Telecom Money Doesn't Speak for Latinos

(PR) - The broadband Internet industry appears to be using its relationships with well-known Latino organizations to mislead the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into thinking that Latinos don’t want Net Neutrality, the principle that guarantees a free and open Internet.

The stakes are huge. Because the Internet is open and free, small operations like Presente have been able to grow and thrive, building real political power for Latinos on a relatively small budget. And regular folks like you have been able to have a huge impact on important issues ranging from immigration reform to media accountability. Without Net Neutrality, the Internet would have less potential to empower our communities.

But it’s not just about the Internet — it's about accountability. Latino organizations with close financial ties to telecoms appear to be more concerned with their telecom donors than about accurately representing their constituents' voices on this issue. That's not right.

So far, more than 5600 Presente members have sent a message to the FCC standing up for Internet freedom. We try to reach 10,000 before the FCC’s September 15 submission deadline.

Prominent Latino civic organizations that work to represent our communities' interests are now opposing a policy that could be critical for Latino communities to thrive in the 21st century. At the same time, their stance would benefit the telecommunications industry, which doles out millions of dollars to these groups — raising serious questions about conflict of interests.

The FCC claims to be especially interested in expanding the promise of the Internet for minorities, so when Latino groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) speak out against policies that will protect an open Internet, it gives powerful cover to telecom efforts to boost their profits.

The best way to discourage this behavior is to render it ineffective. If we let the FCC know that these groups don't necessarily speak for their Latino constituents on Net Neutrality, their voices will become less influential and thus less valuable to the telecom industry.

Newspapers, radio, television: all these media had the potential to empower Latinos and other minority communities by allowing us to represent ourselves and launch new business enterprises. But in each case, powerful business interests suppressed their incredible liberating potential.

This hasn't yet happened with the Internet. Because the Internet operates as a level playing field, anyone can start a blog to report on important issues mainstream media outlets aren't covering. Anyone can start a political movement that takes on giant corporations — and win. Anyone can start a business that competes on equal footing with well-established companies. The Internet provides an opportunity for your ideas to be heard despite the size of your bank account.

Net Neutrality is the principle that keeps the Internet operating as a level playing field — it basically says that broadband providers, like Comcast or AT&T, need to treat all data flowing over their networks the same. They can't slow down or block the ideas you create online just because they don't like what you have to say.

Most importantly, Net Neutrality also means that those same companies can't give preferred access to their friends, allies, and business partners. Thanks to Net Neutrality, Verizon couldn't create an Internet fast lane for one company to the detriment of its competitors. The problem is that broadband providers, like Verizon, see cutting those kinds of deals as an important source of revenue going forward, and they're spending millions of dollars lobbying the FCC to allow them to do so. They don't care that they'll stifle innovation and keep new businesses started by less resourced people, especially Latinos and other minorities, from being able to compete on a level playing field.

Deploying Latino Dissent

Net Neutrality is unquestionably good for our communities. But recently, a number of Latino organizations have spoken out against the only way to keep broadband companies from creating Internet fast lanes and discriminating against content they don't like — reclassifying high-speed Internet as a common carrier.

These organizations argue — as do the telecoms — that if the telecoms could make more money by charging more for the highest quality network access, they'll invest in more and cheaper Internet access for Latinos and other minority communities. The argument is patently false: telecoms already make a hefty profit on broadband, even seeing an increase in recent years, but investment simply has not kept pace. This fact doesn't prevent these organizations from repeating debunked arguments.

LULAC, one of the organizations most vocally against reclassification, has received millions of dollars from the telecommunications industry in recent years. Its last conference was sponsored by AT&T, Comcast, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a cable industry lobbying group. The group is in a long-term corporate partnership with Comcast that began in 2006. And between 2004 and 2007, LULAC received at least $2.5 million from AT&T.

Similarly, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) — a front group for the telecommunications industry in a scathing Center for Public Integrity report last year — has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from broadband providers over the years, and has repeatedly organized opposition to Net Neutrality and reclassification. 

And Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), another well-known front group, regularly gives voice to lobbyists for the telecommunications industry — its “Senior Advisor” Martin Chavez is on staff with one of Verizon’s D.C. lobbying firms, the Ibarra Strategy Group — even as it accepts millions of dollars in contributions from those companies.

While taking corporate money is common practice with many national organizations, it represents a major conflict of interest when these organizations begin to take on positions that support telecommunications companies' interests. We also know that telecoms and their lobbyists view these donations as an important investment. Verizon reportedly cut off support for the National Hispanic Media Coalition when the organization took a pro-Net Neutrality position in 2010.

And one telecom lobbyist infamously said in 2008, "You go down the Latino people, the deaf people, the farmers, and choose them... You say, 'I can't use this one — I already used them last time….' We had their letterhead. We'd just write the letter. We'd fax it to them and tell them, 'You're in favor of this.'"

Real Accountability

Net Neutrality is unquestionably good for our communities, but accountability is even more critical. 

Whether Black, Latino, or Asian, our communities count on organizations like or LULAC to accurately represent their constituents' interests, not those of their corporate donors. The sacred trust our members put in us leaves no room for questions about the integrity of our actions.

But the actions of some Latino organizations, including LULAC, MANA, The Latino Coalition, and others invite questions about conflict of interest and about whether these organizations are more accountable to their members or to their corporate funders. By taking action today, you’ll not only help secure Net Neutrality, but also strike a blow against the corrupting influence of corporate dollars in the organizations that claim to represent Latinos.

Thanks and ¡adelante!

Mariana, Luis, Arturo, and the rest of the Team

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