Malkia Cyril Asks Who Will Defend the Rights of People of Color to an Open Internet

Photo: Malkia Cyril

Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice will be at the “Art, Access & Action” Summit on Friday. She will be speaking on the “Navigating the Media Landscape” panel and will be participating in the “Power of Art” Workshop with Latino & African-American community artists.

Cyril is a dedicated communication rights activist who is proactively working to ensure the rights of people of color are defended when it comes to keeping access to the Internet open.

She recently wrote about the open Internet protections being debated by the FCC:

The open Internet protections being debated by the Federal Communications Commission right now will determine who wins and who loses in the fight over whether big companies or regular people will control the Internet. I want everyday people to win.

In the fight over who will control the Internet, big companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are hoping they will win a pass on FCC oversight and public interest protection leaving them free to make as much profit as they can even if the service they provide is gated and discriminatory. Some civil rights groups are legitimately concerned that protecting the public from discrimination online -especially the poor and people of color- from the proven abuses of Big Media companies will result in those companies refusing to build out high speed broadband to rural communities and poor urban communities. Media companies have said as much, claiming that public interest and consumer protections that ensure that the Internet remains an open and true source of innovation, otherwise known as “net neutrality”, will cost too much and deprive them of revenue for deployment of broadband to the communities that need it most. Threatening to withhold buildout of this critical national utility in poor communities if there are consumer protections attached is called digital redlining, and it’s wrong.

It makes sense that the threat of digital redlining has some civil rights groups in the DC beltway concerned. This concern has resulted in some groups like the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), run by David Honig, taking a position against the open Internet protections that would ensure that the Internet remains an un-gated platform for self-representation, innovation, and opportunity…

Openness protections are the Internet’s bill of rights. There are no such protections for broadcast or cable and these mediums have become a gated community full of devastating misrepresentation. Openness protections level the playing field on the Internet and ensure that those communities who create and rely on small businesses can use the Internet as a platform for economic mobility and real opportunity. Outside of DC, the civil rights community understands this. The organizations of the Media Action Grassroots Network have met repeatedly with the Federal Communications Commission to share stories from our communities about why a non-discriminatory Internet is a civil right in need of protection. We told Commissioner Mignon Clyburn about the millions of migrant families who use free sites like Skype -which are threatened by removing open Internet protections- to remain connected with their families abroad. We talked with Commissioner Clyburn and our congressional representatives about how the openness we enjoy now on the Internet enables the constituencies we represent to reach a larger audience. This ability to speak in our own voices and control our user experience on the Internet is as important to communities of color and the poor as broadband deployment and adoption, and is one of the most important communications fights of our lifetime.

Commissioner Clyburn has become a champion of Internet openness and has called upon the DC civil rights community to do the same, and some legacy civil rights groups have done so. Unfortunately, MMTC keeps ringing the false alarm that these openness protections will harm our communities. Honig claims to represent the interests of communities of color, and has taken a strong and positive stance on broadband deployment- but in the case of protecting the interests of communities of color online- its time for MMTC to stand with communities of color and the poor, and not with big media.

Over 300 groups outside of the DC beltway support the strongest open Internet protections possible, and have signed a pledge to that effect. These out-of-the beltway civil rights groups have no financial relationship with media companies, and nothing to gain by the position they’ve taken. Yet the trade newspapers and mainstream media continue to turn to the beltway for the “civil rights perspective” on the Internet. It’s time for the official story on the open Internet and civil rights to come from the mouths of those most impacted by it…

Visit the Center for Media Justice for more on Malkia Cyril and don’t forget to be in the audience at the Summit when Malkia Cyril speaks on Friday, April 9th at 10 am.

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