Above: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler visits the encampment occupying the FCC on May 14th 2014.
New Mexico Youth have Tremendous Opportunity to Question FCC Chair Tom Wheeler about the Need to Treat the Internet as a Public Utility where there is No Discrimination
Despite claiming to be one of the founding countries of the Internet, the United States has fallen behind the rest of the world in improving both the percentage of the population with access to and the overall quality of this vital service that people, especially young people, are quick to liken to something as important as water.
The United States is 25th in the world for percentage of a country’s population with Internet access. Only 81% of the United States has access to the Internet according to 2012 data from the World Bank. Even more shocking is that we are 39th in the world for download speed with 21.1 Mbps on average according to a 2014 study by the global internet speed test site Ookla.
Right now the FCC is considering a policy change that will make these problems worse. A proposed rule would allow telecommunication and broadband companies to charge content providers like Netflix or the New York Times or even this very website for a viable connection to their users. This would undermine one of the founding principles of the Internet – Net Neutrality – effectively rendering the Internet into something that resembles cable television. This would continue to worsen the already slipping global Internet ranking of the United States at a time when utilizing cutting edge technologies like the web is the cornerstone of our economy.
The state of the Internet in the U.S. is not a fringe concern for technologists and website managers but something of practical concern to Americans around the country that see access to high quality Internet as something that is key to their own social and economic future. Perhaps this is why the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler, has a particular interest in the state of New Mexico.
In 2010, New Mexico was ranked number 44th of the 50 states having only 68% of the population with Internet access. Today people in New Mexico still lag behind the rest of the nation in both high speed and regular Internet access. Tom Wheeler will be visiting the state this coming Monday, June 30th, to have a dialogue directly with New Mexico youth about Internet and media issues for the first time. We talked to the Campaign Coordinator of Media Literacy Project Alanna Offield about this interesting event. Media Literacy Project specifically is interested in pursuing ‘media justice,’ which Offield describes as:
“making sure that all of the families and all of the individuals in our community have the tools that they need to access, analyze and create their own media that reflects their lived experience.”
They create advocates for media justice through education about how the media works:
“We look at what images we see in the media, be it advertisements, television, or movies. We start deconstructing media by asking critical questions like, What are we being sold here? Who is this message for? What techniques of persuasion are being used? Through deconstructing, we see how misleading our media system is and how it doesn’t represent the reality for our communities. And so through deconstruction we are able to lead people toward being advocates for media justice.
“We also look at who is included in the media landscape, who owns media outlets, who owns internet service providers, and who are the people that we see represented on news stations or in news stories. We ask how we can shift to a truer representation of our community.”
Hearing Tom Wheeler, who has three decades of experience as a Washington, DC lobbyist, will put their skills to the test. They will need to be on alert and deconstruct Wheeler’s claims. We know from experience that Wheeler can sound like an advocate for an open, non-discriminatory Internet while at the same time advocating a tiered Internet based on fees so that some corporations can purchase faster speed than others.
This type of nonprofit group is actually an ideal organizer for an event that will take a marginalized group, like the New Mexico youth, and give them an opportunity to have a dialogue with Tom Wheeler directly. Offield reminded us that “there are no young people included on any of the [FCC] advisory panels.”
So this is a great first step to getting young peoples’ voices heard by the FCC and it is no small accomplishment. Offield points out: “… to set up an opportunity where folks can say some of that to the Chairman, we don’t often get the opportunity to talk about such a broad range of issues with a Federal official like that, especially not in New Mexico.”
The event will hopefully launch the concerns of these youth into the wider audience of the country at large as the event will be live streamed at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nuestras-voces-our-voices . And In order to pull off such a ground breaking event, Media Literacy Project partnered with a coalition of like-minded local groups to set up this opportunity, which will also feature phone and live tweet participation.
Alanna Offield pointed out the context of issues like Internet access and net neutrality. Media Literacy Project sees these issues through the eyes of communities that are too often co-opted by large media organizations and whose stories are manipulated for someone else’s financial benefit. A free, open and non-discriminatory Internet is an essential tool for liberating people so they are enabled to take back their right to tell their own story. Offield says:
“We also look at who is included in the media landscape, like who owns media outlets, who owns internet service providers, who are the people that we see represented on news stations or in news stories. When we see representations of our community be that: women, people of color, LGBTQ folks; what does that look like in the media and how can we shift that to a truer representation of our community. How do we make sure that we have more ownership and consult over how we are represented and a lot of that work ties into our access work… how are we going to change that representation if we don’t have access to the tools we need to do that?”
So when confronted with the potential realities of an Internet without net neutrality protections and an establishment of a tiered system she worries, very reasonably, about those local groups that that aren’t large media groups, aren’t large corporations, and are simply trying to connect with other people around the world.
“We feel that the Chairman’s idea to propose a fast and slow lane is not going to work for our community and we are in favor of reclassification of the Internet as a common carrier. We have concerns about the fast lane idea because, particularly in New Mexico, we are a rural state that a lot of our folks don’t really have the Internet yet, we are still struggling with access, so we want to keep the Internet open and available for our rural communities when they get it so don’t break it before we get it.
“We are also concerned with rural small businesses here in New Mexico that because of the Internet are able to sell their products worldwide. Something New Mexico is known for is our green chili, if we didn’t have an open Internet who is to say that these small chili growers in New Mexico would be able to sell green chili across the United States or around the world. Net Neutrality let that happen and they probably won’t be able to pay higher fees to be a part of this fast lane.
“And also for non-profits like our self, we do a lot of work in the community with a lot of other nonprofits that have expressed concern about how are we going to get our information out to people if we can’t afford to be on this fast lane to make our content available. The Internet is the one place that we can truly find was to represent our communities truthfully. If we don’t have net neutrality that all goes away. It’s a little scary. We want the internet to work like a utility.”
In short, the Internet, in its net neutral form, is a tool that groups like Media Literacy Project can use to help local communities and marginalized groups become aware of the propaganda around them and about them and instead participate in global conversations.
When you are watching the Live Stream of this amazing event, keep in mind that so many of us may be concerned with Net Neutrality – but we should be concerned about it for the noble reasons that Media Literacy Project embodies.
At Popular Resistance we want to amplify their voices, not drown them out. Therefore @PopResistance and other groups will be retweeting the questions that the youth of New Mexico ask Tom Wheeler. We [encourage people in the larger Internet community to join the conversation on June 30 between 6:30 and 8:30 pm Mountain Time by tweeting about why net neutrality is important directly to Tom Wheeler, @TomWheelerFCC, using the hashtag #OurInternet]. We also invite you to join us in raising the voices of New Mexico’s youth by retweeting and engaging them through twitter using #OurVoicesNM and @MediaLitProject.
This event is an opportunity for Chairman Wheeler to hear the concerns of youth from a state that has among the worst Internet service in the United States. It is also an opportunity for him to better understand why the Internet is a common carrier and should not allow any discrimination based on fees. Common carrier status is essential for ‘media justice,’ especially for upcoming generations whose opportunities will be stifled by a tiered Internet based on fees.
For more information visit Media Literacy Project.