The NAACP and a major union last week endorsed an FCC plan that could effectively end net neutrality, a position that aligns them with major broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast.
The union and the NAACP seem to be banking on the broadband companies' claims that money earned from charging websites like Netflix for fast Internet access will be reinvested to create jobs, especially for African-Americans. But one progressive net neutrality proponent blasted that position as a "baffling" embrace of "trickle-down economics."
In a joint comment to the FCC on Tuesday, the NAACP and the Communications Workers of America argued against regulations that could "have the unintended consequence of dampening the private investment needed to build the next-generation broadband networks."
For years, broadband companies have similarly argued that they would be unable to invest in building out their networks if Internet providers are reclassified as public utilities, thus prohibiting discrimination between websites based on price.
Instead of taking that step, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has instead opted to adopt a plan that could open the door to paid prioritization, which would allow broadband companies to charge websites like Netflix for speedier access to their customers. Net neutrality activists argue that would divide the Internet into preferential "fast lanes" and disadvantaged "slow lanes" for online traffic.
The NAACP and CWA did not take an outright position on reclassification, but they did argue that paid prioritization won't lead to those fast and slow lanes. More money flowing to the big broadband companies for investing in capital improvements, they claimed, will lead to better service for all.
Shifting the cost of Internet access to "edge providers" like Netflix will provide broadband companies with a new "revenue stream," the groups argued, and could result in "lowering end-user subscriber rates for broadband service, thereby reducing cost barriers to adoption of broadband services."
"With high-sped networks, there is enough capacity for everyone, and concerns about 'fast lanes' and 'slow lanes' disappear," the African-American advocacy group and the union asserted.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of Color of Change, an online group for African-American advocacy that has repeatedly criticized the NAACP for its position on net neutrality. He said the FCC comment is a misstep that borrows ideas from "trickle-down economics."
"It should make no sense to anybody who's worked in urban or low-income communities that if we just give more to big corporations and businesses, it will somehow get down to us," he told HuffPost. "There's no reason that these companies will somehow have an incentive to invest in better connections for our communities."
The NAACP did not respond to a request for comment. Debbie Goldman of the CWA told HuffPost in an email that "[b]roadband companies' revenue opportunities drive network investment."
Color of Change has repeatedly criticized the NAACP for taking donations from AT&T.
"No matter how much money we take from AT&T or any of the other telecom companies, we will never have enough money to outspend our opponents," Robinson said. "Having platforms that allow our ideas to have visibility because of the quality of the ideas, not because of the money behind them, is critical."