BLOG: Why You Can’t Be Neutral About Net Neutrality – Civil Rights At Stake

Tomorrow, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on a plan to reverse its 2015 “Open Internet Order,” which established net neutrality, ensuring that all online content is treated equally by internet service providers. Essentially, net neutrality prevents companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from blocking, slowing down, or speeding up online content based on the user and their ability to pay for faster or increased services. Eliminating net neutrality allows internet service providers to charge user fees at their discretion for access to certain content.

In this digital age, the internet has been a way for poor and working class families to connect with critical employment, health services, and even legal assistance. These issues impact all of us, including South Asian Americans. At SAALT, our online intake form for individuals who have experienced hate violence or discrimination is an important internet tool that allows us to direct people to legal services. Creating a “pay to play” environment threatens the ability of the poor and working class to get these important resources. Numerous studies, including a recent investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, reveal that families in poor areas are five times less likely to have access to high-speed internet than families in affluent areas. Allowing internet service providers to charge user fees further restrains access to online content and widens this disparity even further, which throttles civil rights..

Black-led media justice organizations like the Center for Media Justice and the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition have defended net neutrality for decades and were instrumental in the FCC’s 2015 decision to codify net neutrality. Their tireless work has shown the importance of an open internet for social justice organizing, healthcare access, rapid response to national disasters, and content creation for artists, just to name a few. All of these reasons should be enough for South Asian Americans to join the fight to preserve net neutrality. But digging further into recent demographic data shows exactly how many poor South Asian Americans would be hurt by the elimination of net neutrality.

According to recently released data from the Pew Research Center, there are currently 5 million South Asian Americans living in the United States. Of those, over 10% or more than half a million live in poverty. For Nepalese and Bangladeshi American communities, this figure is nearly 25%, and for Bhutanese Americans, this figure jumps to 33%. With these staggering levels of poverty and inequality in our community alone, it is critical that we understand net neutrality as more than a politically charged issue, but a fundamental civil rights issue.

We must also consider the backdrop of this poverty, inequality, and unequal access to information. It occurs in a national climate that is fueled by this Administration’s white supremacist agenda, fanning the flames of hate to heights not seen since the year after 9/11. SAALT and our allies regularly document incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities. Exactly one year since the 2016 presidential election, SAALT documented 213 incidents of hate violence alone against our communities, which is over a 60% increase from the previous year. These stories rarely make news headlines because the victims are disproportionately Muslim or perceived to be Muslim (84%) and often do not have the power of law enforcement or the bully pulpit behind them to get the recourse they deserve.

South Asian American communities and all communities of color are doubly victimized by this Administration’s agenda that both fans the flames of hate and attacks civil rights by issuing Muslim Bans, rolling out mass deportations, and eliminating net neutrality. As we established in our last report “Power, Pain, Potential,” there is a relationship between rolling back civil rights and increasing vulnerability to hate violence. South Asian Americans should be alarmed and activated to speak out now.

Resources to learn and act now

To take action on net neutrality, please see guidance from the Voices for Internet Freedom Coalition.

To learn more about SAALT’s efforts, check out our 2017 report “Power, Pain, Potential” that documents incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities in the year leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Stay tuned for an updated 2018 report that documents the year after the 2016 election.

If you have experienced an act of violence or discrimination, you can report it confidentially on SAALT’s intake form here or call our partners at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law at 1-844-9-NO-HATE and get resources and support.

Lakshmi Sridaran
Director, National Policy and Advocacy, SAALT