The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Color of Net Neutraltiy

[Ed. note: I’m actually out with Parker and his daycare class today a field trip to the zoo. This post was written late Monday night, when I should have been sleeping in preparation for spending the day with 20 or so 3-to-5 year olds.]

I’ve spent the evening reading various posts about diversity in the blogosphere, and I intend to write a longer post about all that I’ve read later. It’s a topic that I’ve blogged about before, and a lot of bandwidth has been burned since the last time I posted about. So I’m trying to figure out what started the fire this time. But reading some of the posts and comments brought to mind an issue that I haven’t written about much.

In, I think I’ve written about net neutrality exactly once. But in reading about diversity in the progressive blogosphere, it occurred to me that net neutrality is an issue that could have a huge impact on that diversity. And progressive people of color could have a huge impact on that issue if we can get our communities and institutions to pay attention to it.

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Ever since I sat in the African American caucus at Yearly Kos last year it’s been that blogging could become an important tool in our communities if we can understand the equation that’s spelled out in this post at Mirror on America: Black Bloggers = Black Power.

There are several examples of black bloggers working in concert to bring news stories to prominence that wouldn’t have gotten notice otherwise, and achieving results that may not have been possible without the power of blogging. The story of Shaquanda Cotton is just one example.

And every once in a blue moon, you write something that literally explodes across the Internet in ways no one could predict.

That has now happened with a story I wrote two weeks ago, about a 14-year-old black girl from the small Texas town of Paris, who was sent to a youth prison for up to 7 years for shoving a hall monitor at her high school. A 14-year-old white girl, convicted of arson for burning down her family’s house, was sentenced by the same Paris judge to probation.

If you had Googled the black girl’s name, Shaquanda Cotton, the day before the story was published on the front page of the March 12 edition of the Tribune, you would have gotten zero results. On Monday afternoon, there were more than 35,000 hits.

The story has been picked up on more than 300 blogs around the country, many of them concerned with African-American affairs. It has generated thousands of postings to Internet message boards.

There are others, like the coalition of black LGBT bloggers who stopped a concert sponsored by an AIDS organization, featuring artists Caribbean artists whose lyrics featured incitements to violence and murder against gay people. There’s the bloggers who got the missing persons stories of Tamika Houston and Latoyia Figueroa featured on national television, by writing about them and pointing out how most missing persons stories featured on national news were those in which the victims were young, white women.

I’ve covered this before. What our institutions — our civic organizations, our civil rights organizations, our churches, etc.— need to understand is that blogging has the potential to be for African Americans what Black newspapers were in their day; a means of informing communities, coalescing and coordinating our efforts in order to effect change. There is a lot of potential to be tapped there, and a lot of barriers to deal with first. Some of those barriers are related to issues that are supposed to bedrock for progressive politics: that many people don’t have the resources to acquire or access the technology, the knowledge required to use it effective, or the leisure time to do so regularly.

Those bedrock issues are also the precise reasons why internet access in general and blogging in particular hold promise for people in our communities who are living those realities day-to-day, we need to preserve the possibility that broadband access will reach our communities and be as and open when it reaches our communities as is now. Because if we’ve done the work of preparing people in our communities to use these new tools effectively, their voices and their experience can become a part of the discussion and have the change to inform its agenda and content.

I guess that’s where I disagree with Chris, or where I’d at least expand his statment to read “Not everyone needs to blog, for the same reasons.” Maybe not everyone needs to blog for a broad national audience. In our case, it’s at least as much about building our networks, hearing one another’s voices, combining our strength and applying it effectively, and empowering one another. For that to happen we need free and open access to the infrastructure.

That is why net neutrality matters to black folks. Or why it should matter. Because a threat to neutrality is a threat to the potential in blogging which our communities have yet to tap into, largely due reasons of economics and access. (Again, bedrock issues.) Getting into bed with Telecoms who don’t even want to extend service to our communities outside of the “red line” beyond which they make less profit is a threat to that potential, is threat to the potential empowerment technology can offer to our communities, and thus increase the diversity of the blogosphere.

As far as know, few or none of the major black organizations have taken a stand or even begun to address the issue of net neutrality. I’m not sure why that is, but perhaps an event like this is an opportunity to begin that conversation. Right now, there’s no real organized network of black political bloggers. If there were, it could help illustrate to the old-line orgs just what they’re missing out on. And it may be that some collaborative efforts between African American bloggers and African American institutions could jump start the building of those much-needed networks.

But we still have to have somewhere to build it.


  1. Hi Terrance,

    Enjoyed reading your thoughts. I agree that the blogosphere has great potential to connect and galvanize minority groups. It’s happening every day. However, net neutrality regulations would only make it harder for groups to connect. In fact, an American Consumer Institute study found that net neutrality would cost consumers $69 billion over the next 10 years and potentially force people to cut broadband service.

    Proposed Internet regulations would deprive consumers of $69 billion in potential benefits over the next 10 years by barring voluntary commercial agreements necessary to bring some new applications and services to the Internet, the American Consumer Institute estimates in a new study released today. The study also says net neutrality regulations would likely raise the cost of Internet connections for consumers and force millions of Americans to drop their broadband subscriptions, particularly lower income consumers.

    Your strategy is right on the mark but your tactics would be better served to push for increased broadband service across the board. At least that’s what I’m working to achieve with the Hands Off the Internet Coalition.

  2. Ah, look here – some fine looking astroturf. Citing an American Consumer Institute study, but not really talking about the funding or provenance of this wonderful “Hands Off the Internet Coalition” – a “coalition” (if by coalition you mean a group of companies) that is mostly concerned with supporting the pet project of the telecom industry – namely charging different fees for different levels of bandwidth and privatizing parts of the very public internet. Nice try.

    Want to find out a little about Hands Off the Internet… go to:

  3. The above comment was faithfully brought to you by the telecom industry. Front groups all.

  4. Nice take. The blogosphere is great largely because it’s open to anyone with access to a computer and the internet, and good arguments tend to be valued. While anyone in the liberal political blogosphere can do news analysis, not everyone will do it from the same perspective. When it comes to first hand accounts of an incident or an issue, that diversity is surely a strength.

  5. About the “Hands Off the Internet Coalition”: I pulled this excerpt from, in an article describing the faces of Net Neutrality. It mentions how when you start seeing commercials for these interests pop up all of a sudden on Prime-Time hours you know big corporations have a hand in protecting conflicting interests. DUH! who else has the money to sponsor continual ads on PRIME TIME TV?! broke-ass ‘net users who come together online and Blog en masse? PLEASE, you corporate-planted skeezyx! government hands off the internet just spells “destroy free speech in the name of capitalism”. They use the words that make you want to join their side, because those are the real problems… but then they tell you to support the very things that will destroy your freedoms, not enhance them! here, read on America! or go to the full article

    Sponsored by a self-described “coalition of Net users” called “Hands Off the Internet,” the ads feature happy consumers sitting in front of their computers while an ominous voice-over warns that corporations such as GTE are “asking the government to slow competition down.” The ads themselves don’t offer many clues about the actual issues, but a look at the Hands Off The Internet Web site puts the group’s agenda into clearer focus.

    The coalition of Net users turns out to be an oddball assortment of cable companies, Net advertising concerns and a string of special interest groups, such as the Small Business Survival Committee and Net.Action, an advocacy group most known for its opposition to Microsoft. Uniting all the groups is the belief that the Internet will flourish best if the government leaves it alone.

    “The Internet’s phenomenal growth stems from the ability of entrepreneurs to expand consumer choices and opportunities without worrying about government regulation,” reads the Web site. “Tell the government to get its hands off the Internet!”

    The government regulation that Hands Off The Internet fears most would force cable franchise operators to let competing Internet service providers use their cable broadband networks. AT&T, which one critic says is providing the bulk of the funding for the campaign, has already fallen victim to this issue: AT&T owns the TCI cable company, and on June 4 was ordered by a federal judge in Portland, Ore., to open up access to its broadband cable network to competing Internet service providers.

    The Portland decision was hailed as a victory by consumer activists who believe the government has a duty to ensure that access to the cable broadband network isn’t monopolized by any particular industry segment. According to Jay Schwartzman, president of Media Access — a public interest law firm that focuses on how First Amendment issues affect electronic media — the “slowing competition down” angle is actually a smoke screen for cable companies who want to enjoy the local monopolies that they have built up over the years. Schwartzman, a participant in another pro-regulation coalition calling itself No Gatekeepers, says that vital free speech issues are involved with ensuring “open access” to the cable broadband network.

    What urks me is that it is a rather confusing smokescreen… small businesses that are owned by larger corporations, are trying to parade around as coalitions of regular, non-corporation-influenced interwebz U$erz saying that government regulation means less competition. In reality, they are a facade of ‘competition’ since they are parented by Big Media and other corporate interests. So, by supporting their cause, you actually further the notion that “NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THE CORPORATE CONTROLLING OF THE INTERNET”, thus not helping – but hurting – your 1st Ammendment Rights in the first place!