NHMC Welcomes FCC Commissioner Clyburn to LA

FCC Commissioner Clyburn

This past Wednesday, NHMC had the honor of partnering with our friends at 18 Million Rising, Free Press, Common Cause, Color of Change, and the Center for Media Justice to host FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at a Los Angeles town hall, where she got to hear how the Commission’s work directly impacts Angelinos.

The event itself took place at Skid Row — an area of Downtown LA with one of the nation’s largest populations of unhoused people. Local community members — as well as an eclectic group of concerned citizens from across Southern California — were in attendance to hear from the Commissioner and to discuss how Washington, D.C. can help low-income consumers stay connected to loved ones and vital services via the internet.

If you follow NHMC’s work, then it probably comes as no surprise to you that affordability plays the largest role in preventing consumers from subscribing to broadband internet. Last year, the FCC took a major step to help bridge the digital divide by modernizing the Lifeline program to include broadband internet — meaning low-income consumers could help alleviate the high cost of internet service by applying a modest $9.25 subsidy to their monthly bill. New FCC chairman Ajit Pai, however, made headlines earlier this year by undermining the program and has now proposed eliminating the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband, which would destroy the legal foundation for Lifeline’s modernization.

Lifeline broadband isn’t the only thing we stand to lose if Chairman Pai’s proposal successfully goes through the FCC, however. Reclassifying broadband internet as an “information service” would also undo the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, which helped ensure an open internet through enforceable net neutrality rules.

*Record scratch* *Freeze frame* Net neutrality? You’re probably wondering how we ended up in this situation. In case you missed John Oliver’s brief explanation on Last Week Tonight, net neutrality is the basic principle that your internet provider (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) must treat all your web traffic equally. Net neutrality prevents a company like Comcast from slowing down, say, Netflix, while giving preferential speeds and image quality to NBC content (which Comcast owns). This principle is especially important for marginalized communities who have historically been underrepresented and negatively stereotyped by major media outlets. The open internet has empowered these same communities to tell their own stories and organize for social change without having to worry about media gatekeepers suppressing their message. As Commissioner Clyburn told the crowd last night, broadband internet is the great equalizer of our time. This could all be lost if Chairman Pai’s proposal to revoke net neutrality is successful.

After brief remarks from NHMC President and CEO Alex Nogales, Commissioner Clyburn heard directly from residents of Skid Row, who described in vivid detail just how challenging it is to stay connected with important online resources. There was General Jeff, formerly homeless, who shared how important a cell phone is for those with mental illness to reach their doctor. There was also Marco, who explained that he could not make an appointment with his doctor over the phone, instead he had to go online. A Lifeline recipient mentioned how she lived on a limited income, and would not be able to have a phone but for her Lifeline subsidy. Local activists also expressed the importance of preserving strong net neutrality rules, which have empowered them to educate communities across the country, spread online petitions, and easily reach elected officials.

Toward the end of the evening, Commissioner Clyburn said something rather poignant: “I should not be the first or last FCC Commissioner to visit Skid Row.” Commissioner Clyburn deserves major applause for actively reaching out to the most marginalized amongst us — those whose voices traditionally go unheard. Internet access is something most of us take for granted when we’re busy conducting research for homework assignments or streaming Mystery Science Theater (if you haven’t started the new season yet, do yourself a favor and skip the first episode), but for so many Americans — including many of those in attendance at this event — getting online to reach family, doctors, or social services can be a real challenge.

It’s time to tell your local elected officials that the FCC needs to preserve real net neutrality and reject Chairman Pai’s proposal. I promise it will take you less time than you would otherwise spend skipping through all the ship scenes on a Mystery Science Theater episode.