Minority Groups Angered By Comments On Public Knowledge Blog Over Network Neutrality

The NAACP and Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) have called on Public Knowledge  to repudiate comments on its blog that they say paint minorities as uninformed or easily manipulated on the issue of network neutrality.

For its part, Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn acknowledges the rhetoric got overheated in the run-up to the FCC vote Thursday to launch a network neutrality rulemaking, and wants a more "civil dialogue" on both sides.

In a letter to Sohn Friday, the HTTP and NAACP called the following statement, from an Oct. 18 blog posting," ig Telecom Foments Hill's Net Neutrality Hysteria," by a PK staffer offensive, irresponsible and prejudiced: "Perhaps the saddest part of the whole affair to date is the role of groups representing minority populations. For whatever reason -- whether they believe what the Big Telecom companies tell them or not -- many organizations seem to land on policies that hurt their constituencies and fall into ludicrous traps one suspects are not of their making."

"Implying that minorities are easily duped and uninformed is astoundingly offensive," wrote the heads of HTTP and the Washington bureau of the NAACP. "But to accuse the nation's most respected and accomplished minority advocacy groups of consciously disregarding the interests of their constituents in order to abet the manipulation of minority officials is beyond insulting."

In an Oct. 14 letter, HTTP and 20 other groups cautioned the FCC that network neutrality regulations might discourage investment, raise prices and potentially widen the digital divide. HTTP executive director Sylvia Aguilera called the letter somewhere between caution about and opposition to the FCC's proposal given the range of groups her organization represents. Aguilera said no network incumbents steered them toward their stand. "Absolutely not," she told Multichannel News.

She said the groups were most concerned about applying the regs to wireless broadband since that has been a way for both the African-American and Latin-American communities to get on line. "We are opposed to regulations that are going to negatively impact our community," she said. "Groups like Public Knowledge can come up with all the opinions they want and stand above everyone else, which is what it sounds like. But [suggesting that] because we are minority groups we need to be bought off or we need to be told what to say is incredibly offensive. It has nothing to do with the issue of network neutrality and everything to do with having the right to speak for ourselves."

"The rhetoric over the past two weeks has been very hot on both sides" Sohn conceded. "But we look forward with dialoging with groups like the NAACP and HTTP in the future. We recognize things got heated. I am hoping we eventually agree on the substance, but even if we don't we definitely want to have a more civil dialogue," said Sohn, who was preparing a formal response at press time. "I think we should be taking our cues from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and looking forward not past," she said.

At the FCC's meeting Thursday, Clyburn, the commission's lone minority member, took aim at the rhetorical brickbats.

"Unfortunately, some parties seem to prefer radioactive rhetoric and unseemly and unbecoming tactics," she said. "Such an approach may yield headlines, but will not yield positive results with me. So let us permit our better selves to emerge during this process."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.