“The Color of Net Neutrality”

The Color of Net Neutraltiy
by terrance
The Republic of T.

[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.

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.
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