Fair and Open Access to Internet is Crucial to Free Speech Posted by Jake on Tue Dec 05, 2006 at 12:19:39

Better late than never. We found this endorsement of Net Neutrality from the presidents of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists:

By: Rafael Olmeda, President, NAHJ and
Bryan Monroe, President, National Association of Black Journalists
As presidents of associations representing thousands of journalists across the United States, we are concerned about issues threatening the First Amendment as well as attacks against a free and open press.

We are troubled by efforts to control the flow of content over the Internet — to deny the public’s ability to receive news and information from a diversity of viewpoints by throttling back the speed of certain Web sites while accelerating others. Such an effort is currently taking place in Congress in the fight for the future of the Internet.

The Internet has revolutionized our society. It has empowered citizens by allowing them to speak without a filter. As the number of citizens and residents with broadband access increases, so has their participation in providing news and information on a myriad of issues they are passionate about.

This has increased the diversity of voices the public receives and has strengthened our democracy.

The Internet is a great equalizer, providing an opportunity for the average citizen or small business, including media companies owned by blacks, Hispanics and other persons of color, to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

But several telecom companies and members of Congress are trying to compromise the First Amendment rights of citizens and residents by installing gatekeepers on the Internet. In pending legislation, they propose to cement into law a recent, misguided regulatory decision to scrap the guiding principle maintaining Internet access and fairness since its inception. This guiding principle is known as “Network Neutrality.”

When consumers surf the Web, they can access any Web site at equal speeds. This means there is no difference how fast someone can access the Web site of Comcast or of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Telecom companies cannot discriminate against the data passing through their wires – or, in other words -- the speed at which the public can access the Web sites of their choice. It is a level playing field.

This may all change if the telecom companies get their way, and they are spending millions to make sure it happens.

Telecom giants like Comcast and Verizon want to charge companies and individuals more money for their Web sites to be accessed at the fastest speeds by consumers. Companies that can afford the extra fees will have a new advantage over smaller businesses — or individuals — trying to use the Internet to compete.

If Congress does not support Network Neutrality, the results will be devastating for free speech, for our society and for consumers. The Internet’s promise as the people’s communications medium will be jeopardized. The level playing field will be destroyed in the name of greed. This will reduce competition and the diversity of viewpoints that the public now enjoys.

One of the great gifts provided by the Internet is the rapid dissemination of news and information. Whether you are CNN or a citizen journalist, your voice and your ideas are only a click away. This gift has allowed new voices from Detroit to Dallas, Harlem to Little Havana, to spring up and compete in the marketplace of ideas. Now imagine if these diverse voices must pay an additional fee to enter that marketplace and make a deal with telecom giants to be heard.

As organizations representing journalists of color, we believe the proposals to privilege Web sites with deep pockets and slow down the Internet for those who can’t – or won’t – pony up big bucks will be especially harmful to our communities. The majority of businesses owned by people of color are, in fact, small businesses with limited resources. In addition, these communities historically have been marginalized by the mainstream media. This move would be just another page from that playbook.

Decades ago, the U.S. Department of Defense used taxpayer dollars to build what is now the Internet. Today, telecom companies are being subsidized by local governments who let them dig up public roads so they can lay down their wires. The foundation of the Internet has been bought and paid for by the citizens of this country. Its access should not be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this year that would strip away the principle of Network Neutrality. U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is currently spearheading a bill in the Senate that would do the same.

We urge Congress to protect the diversity of voices, the free speech rights of all Americans and the future of the Internet by ensuring that any legislation passed supports the principle of fair and open access to the Internet.

This piece first appeared at