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