Over the weekend, thousands of media reform activists and journalists met in Boston (including the Colorlines.com crew). One key moment was when FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told the audience that she would be “super-vigilant” of the wireless industry. That vigilance will be tested, given recent moves by House Republicans and two of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies to block the commission’s new open Web rules. And particularly so given that mobile broadband is a crucial way in which users of color are slowly bridging the digital divide.
“In considering all of the factors relating to America’s minority and lower-income citizens, and realizing how hard people work to claw past their monthly bills only to immediately start fretting about next month, we must be vigilant–super-vigilant–about the direction the wireless industry is heading,” Clyburn told the crowd on Saturday.
Clyburn’s remarks came within days of House Republicans making good on their promise to vote against the FCC’s open Web rules. The action is likely to get voted down in the Senate, and President Obama, who made net neutrality a key point in his 2008 campaign platform, has already vowed to veto any bill that seeks to overturn net neutrality regulations. Back in February, Clyburn re-iterated her support for open Web rules with testimony before the House Sub-committee on Communications and Technology. Calling the Internet the “great equalizer”, Clyburn went on to tell the Republican-led committee why she voted to support the rules last winter. “The current success of the Internet is largely due to its open architecture,” Clyburn testified. “It allows traditionally underrepresented groups to have an equal voice and equal opportunity.” Maintaining such openness, she continued, is crucial.
Meanwhile, big moves are unfolding from telecom companies and federal courts alike to decide the future of the nation’s mobile broadband policy. First, AT&T announced its bid to buy T-Mobile, a move that could rebuild the company into the monopoly the federal government dismantled back in the 80’s because it was “bad for business.” While consumer and some civil rights groups spoke out against the merger, others, including the Hispanic Federation and the National Black Chamber of Congress, applauded it.
“There are two ways to keep costs low–competition and subsidies,” Malkia Cyril, executive director at the Center for Media Justice, told Colorlines. “While some groups might be willing to give away both in exchange for a piece of the AT&T pie, it seems clear that if you want affordable phone bills and consumer protections, you have to oppose the merger.”
While AT&T plots to build the nation’s largest mobile company, two of its competitors vowed to continue their fight against the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband. A D.C. federal appeals court recently dismissed suits by Verizon and Metro PCS to challenge the commission’s recently passed net neutrality rules. The rules, passed in December to ensure that service providers don’t block online content, curiously left out any mention of regulating mobile carriers. Metro PCS became the first company to openly exploit this loophole, offering a new set of tiered data plans among its low-cost services.