Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to eliminate Title II regulations on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) during a speech at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum yesterday (April 26). The move prompted criticism from advocacy groups who see it as a threat to the digital freedom of communities of color.

Pai specifically proposed, via a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking described in the speech and published today (April 27), to remove the internet’s classification under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which defines online access as a public good and gives the FCC authority to prevent ISPs from blocking web traffic or offering prioritized access to entities and customers who can afford to pay more for it.

This principle of an open and equitable Internet, or “net neutrality,” inspired the activism that originally led Pai’s predecessor, Tom Wheeler, to reclassify Internet under Title II in 2015. As he argued in his speech, the Trump-appointed Pai believes these regulations limit ISPs autonomy at the expense of development: 

Who has been most harmed by Title II? When businesses cut back on capital expenditures, the areas that provide the most marginal returns on investment are the first to go. And in the case of broadband, that means low-income rural and urban neighborhoods. As a result, Title II has kept countless consumers from getting better Internet access or getting access, period.

Pai went on to say that these regulations stop ISPs—including multi-billion-dollar corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T—from making investments that bridge the digital divide between those with and without high-speed Internet.

Various digital advocacy groups immediately denounced Pai’s proposal, saying that his market-driven approach will give wealthy ISPs too much power and threaten net neutrality and free speech for disadvantaged populations, including people of color living in low-income communities who depend on equitable high-speed Internet to tell their stories. Here’s what six of those groups have to say about Pai’s proposed changes:

Color of Change’s executive director Rashad Robinson’s statement:
“Chairman Pai’s plan to gut the FCC’s net neutrality rules will devastate Black communities. Net neutrality is essential to protecting our free and open Internet, which has been crucial to today’s fights for civil rights and equality. Our ability to have our voices heard in this democracy depends on an open Internet because it allows voices and ideas to spread based on substance, rather than financial backing. Net neutrality helps to ensure that the Internet is a place for innovation and opportunity for all, rather than just the wealthy few.”

The National Hispanic Media Coalition’s director of policy and legal affairs Carmen Scurato’s statement
“Moving forward with Chairman Pai’s plan would be a loss for Americans everywhere. Dismantling net neutrality opens the door for corporations to limit free expression, organizing efforts, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship by imposing a new toll to access information online. It would also undermine the ability of low-income Americans to get and stay online, as the Lifeline Program that supports broadband discounts would also be jettisoned in Pai’s vision to make the internet work for giant Internet Service Providers, at the expense of consumers.

“For Latinos and other people of color, who have long been misrepresented or underrepresented by traditional media outlets, an open Internet is the primary destination for our communities to share our stories in our own words—without being blocked by powerful gatekeepers motivated by profit. For all of us, the right to communicate freely online is at risk and millions will raise their voices against Pai’s plan to reverse our collective work to affirm net neutrality and extend the Lifeline Program to a greater number of people.”

Media Mobilizing Project’s policy director Hannah Sassaman’s statement
“When Chairman Pai threatens to undo the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, we should be clear about what he is saying. He is saying that poor people, especially from communities of color, don’t deserve unfettered access to the Internet, and the work, health, education and movement building that [it] can provide. He is saying the right of Internet companies and big telecoms to profit off of our need to communicate is sacrosanct, but our speech, intimate relationships and freedom are not.”

Free Press’ deputy director Jessica González, via a joint statement from the Voices for Internet Freedom Network:
“We are less than 100 days into Pai’s chairmanship and two things have become clear: He’s captured by the industries he’s supposed to watchdog and is all too willing to shirk his duty to make communications services available to all people. Today he says he cares about net neutrality in one breath and then spells out a plan to destroy it in the next. Chairman Pai is a phony and he is fooling no one, particularly people of color.”

18 Million Rising’s executive director Cayden Mak, via the above joint statement:
“Like many young Asian Americans, the Internet was the first place I connected with other Asian Americans, and throughout my life it has been a critical connection to family across the globe—it’s a crucial part of how I learned about who I am and why I matter. Today the free and open Internet helps us distribute our own music, movies and art depicting our experiences; educate and organize our people; and link geographically dispersed ethnic communities across the United States. Gutting net neutrality protections fundamentally threatens the way that Asian-American communities live, learn and thrive.”

Center for Media Justice’s executive director Malkia Cyril, via the above joint statement:
“An Internet protected by Title II net neutrality gives those without a seat at the table an equal voice in decisions about the issues that matter most to them. That’s why communities of color have so much to lose if Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has his way. Net neutrality doesn’t only protect opportunity for struggling families; it preserves our right to organize in a digital age. The internet, protected by the current net neutrality rules, has enabled the mothers of children killed by police to demand an end to police violence; it has enabled undocumented students to fight for changes to our broken immigration system. It’s provided the opportunity for new Black voices in the arts to bypass Hollywood gatekeepers. It has given me comfort as I care for my ailing spouse. The only solution that protects the digital voice and rights of communities of color is vigorous enforcement of the rules we fought for and were passed by the FCC two years ago.”

Pai will introduce this proposal to reclassify the internet under the Communications Act’s Title I, which reduces ISP regulation, at the FCC’s next meeting on May 18. Read the full proposal text hereArs Technica reports that the May 18 meeting will include time for proposal input and could lead to a final vote later this year.