The Right to Communicate: MAGNet Asks for Action


Depressed by Dial-up: Disenfranchised Grassroots Groups Plan Massive National Day of Action for Faster, Open Internet

Hundreds of groups sign digital champion pledge calling for equal access and open networks

02.10.2010 – On the heels of Google's groundbreaking announcement of its plans to build a high-speed open network, local advocates and community leaders of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) are asking Congress to protect the principles of an open internet, while dismantling significant barriers to broadband adoption in un-served and underserved communities. These advocates say if the FCC's National Broadband Plan extends the existing Universal Service Fund rules and resources to broadband and mobile devices, and Congress supports action to protect broadband networks with strong net neutrality rules, it will give millions of poor people and people of color the chance to not only log-on to the internet, but log-in to democracy.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are hoping to set the terms on which users can access content over Internet networks, which could expand their profits exponentially. Advocates are concerned that a broadband plan that doesn’t protect the principles of an open internet and allows ISP providers and telecom companies broad leeway to block content or discriminate on speeds may defeat the purpose of extending broadband to communities that need it most.

"The internet is now a critical part of all our daily lives," said Amalia Deloney, MAG-Net Coordinator and Policy Director at the Center for Media Justice. "We use it for almost everything and we need to make it accessible and affordable. But without rules to protect the poor and people of color from the corporate bottom-line, free speech will continue to get more and more expensive."

Though Big Media promised not to block content, their questionable practices have already come under scrutiny by federal regulators and advocates alike. Users discovered Comcast arbitrarily blocking file-sharing traffic across its network, penalizing users with slower speeds or complete disconnection without warning. Similarly, Verizon blocked a text-messaging campaign over its network. Big Telecom companies have argued that they need wide discretion to manage traffic over their networks, and will not build out broadband in poor communities without it, but some are concerned that they are simply setting up tiered-access systems on the Internet.

"What big media basically wants is a poll tax for users and content providers," said Steven Renderos of Main Street Project in Minneapolis, a MAG-Net leader. "We’re being forced to make a false choice between unregulated discriminatory networks or no networks at all. For my community the Internet is the only place to create and share content in our own voices, an arena TV and print networks have failed in because of consolidation and high start-up costs. Congress and the FCC shouldn’t risk the loss of our public voice for the sake of corporate greed."

Center for Media Justice Director Malkia Cyril added, "Some civil rights groups in Washington are afraid that we can’t have representation and broadband access at the same time. Hundreds of civil rights groups in local communities across the country disagree. The FCC is off to a great start by recognizing that you can’t close the digital divide without accessible and open networks. Congress should go further to champion that cause and encourage the codification of strong net neutrality rules that prevent discrimination on the Internet and ensure it remains a platform of innovation, freedom, and equity."

The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) is a local-to-local advocacy network of nearly 100 grassroots social justice, media, and cultural organizations working together for social change through the critical use and transformation of media and communications systems.