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Rainbow PUSH, MMTC: Title II Could Harm Diversity

Reclassifying Internet access under Title II common carrier regulations would "harm communities of color."

That was the message from Rainbow PUSH, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council and three dozen other minority advocacy organizations who filed joint comments to the FCC.

In their comments, the groups said the FCC should use its Sec. 706 authority (the authority to promote advanced communications services to all Americans) to protect an open Internet, "coupled with a [rebuttable] presumption against paid prioritization and with strong and well enforced consumer protections." It must also create an "accessible, affordable, expedited" process to handle complaints, they say.

The FCC, under chairman Tom Wheeler, is proposing to restore its ban on unreasonable discrimination by replacing a ban on such discrimination with a case-by-case look at commercially reasonable discrimination. Wheeler has signaled the idea is to recreate that ban in a legally justifiable way.

To make sure that case-by-case approach works, say the minority advocates, the FCC should adopt a complaint procedure modeled on Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which is meant to prevent employment discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion or national origin. "[B]roadband access, adoption, and digital literacy join the suite of civil rights prerequisites to first class citizenship in the digital age," they argue.

The groups brand Title II an out-of-date regulatory structure that would increase consumer prices, slow broadband adoption, potentially choke innovation and diminish investment, lead to years of regulatory ambiguity and litigation.

"Overly burdensome regulations treating broadband as a public utility would institutionalize second class digital citizenship, needlessly delaying the digital inclusion goals sought by communities of color," they said. "This result would harm both consumers of color and minority entrepreneurs, for whom the Internet has been their easiest path to entry to bring new content to their communities and the nation."

The NAACP, which filed separate comments in tandem with the Communications Workers of America, also supports using Sec. 706 authority to justify new rules, but did not take aim at Title II in its comments.