Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sylvia Aguilera “Civil Rights Organizations’ Hopes for Change at the FCC Remain Unmet”

Sylvia Aguilera, Executive Director of the HTTP

A letter issued by 23 civil rights organizations should provide some answers to those who profess to being troubled and confused by the civil rights community’s unwillingness to fall into lock-step with them and the Administration on the Open Internet proceeding.

It should go without saying that civil rights organizations are not only entitled, but justified, to question the ability of a government agency to manage the regulation of something as vital as the Internet.  Even a cursory look at the Federal Communications Commission’s record in addressing the needs of unserved and underserved communities, opens one’s eyes to appalling disregard for the needs of communities of color.  It is a record that the current Commission has done little to change.

The FCC has failed to address:

  • enforcement of broadcast Equal Employment Opportunity  rules,
  • assignment of a compliance officer for advertising non-discrimination rules,
  • promulgation of multilingual broadcasts of emergency information,
  • holding a hearing on faulty audience measurement technologies impacting minority-serving radio.

These are only a few examples of the FCC’s failure to protect the interests of minority communities.  While these failures can be directly attributed to the prior Administration, more recent examples – such as the omission of minority, digital divide or minority business enterprise issues in its December 2009 National Broadband Plan Framework, and the agency’s failure to support funding for much-needed support for media and telecom ownership by women and minorities – can only be interpreted by advocates as an outright dismissal of the concerns of disenfranchised communities.

If these issues were not so serious, questions about civil rights organizations’ reluctance to embrace regulation of an open Internet would be almost laughable.  When presented with the FCC’s dismal record of neglect and disregard for the needs of our communities, why would any advocate expect civil rights organizations to trust the FCC’s ability to safeguard our rights on the Internet?

Civil rights organizations need not excuse or explain themselves in the face of such naiveté. Like any group of engaged, concerned citizens, we have the right to petition our government. In this case, where the trust and goodwill of minority communities have been decimated by neglect, we will be especially vigilant in our efforts to ensure that our government engages in responsible policy making. While we respect the right of advocates to hold differing opinions, we feel strongly that the energy and resources being used to discredit civil rights organizations over this one proceeding would be better placed in moving the FCC to act on the long-standing list of civil rights proposals that have languished at the agency.

It is distressing to witness groups and individuals that are aligned with the Commission using smear tactics – typically the domain of political operatives – to discredit civil rights organizations.  These tactics are at odds with the “Change” that had been the uniting promise of a new Administration that many of us helped bring into office. In the past, we have partnered with some of the same organizations that now question our motives.  In the future, it would serve all of us to collaborate once again. We ask these organizations to not make the same mistakes that the FCC has made in disregarding our very real concerns for the needs of disenfranchised communities.

Sylvia Aguilera is Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, a coalition of national Hispanic organizations that works to increase awareness of the impact of technology and telecommunications policy on the U.S. Hispanic community.