Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality, meaning America’s access to an equal and open internet could become a thing of the past. Democrats in Congress have vowed to fight the decision, but if they are unsuccessful, this vote could have major consequences for society. The end of net neutrality will suck for a lot of people, but the negative impacts of ending net neutrality will especially hurt Black people.
Essentially, the repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality protections means the FCC can control what is and isn’t accessible on the internet. They’ll be able to do this by slowing down or speeding up the connection to certain websites and blocking specific content and apps. Companies that provide internet access will have the ability to charge extra for access to websites you probably use everyday. Want to listen to “Bodak Yellow” on Pandora? Sorry, that’ll be $2.99.
And while the end of net neutrality will hurt millionaire musical artists' sales, many Black people have gained a following and an income by subverting traditional gatekeepers and power structures by using social media and other platforms that will be limited by this repeal. Artists and innovators who crowdfund their income, relying on people who believe in their vision to donate, use websites like Patreon and Kickstarter, but with restrictions on the internet, people will be less likely to visit these sites and support individual creators.
Another aspect of American life that gained traction, in part thanks to an open internet, was the Black Lives Matter movement. Social movements in recent years relied heavily on social media to share messages quickly and display powerful images traditional media outlets originally ignored.
Think back to the protests in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. Cable news didn’t run stories until the images were had trended on Twitter for several hours, and when news crews left the city, the world continued to get on-the-ground coverage from protesters who were using Twitter.
Activists also often use free, secure messaging platforms like Whatsapp to communicate information that could be used against them. This repeal could limit access to Whatsapp and similar resources.
The FBI has recently coined the term “Black identity extremists,” a move that was met by widespread backlash and called an "attempt to criminalize blackness" by one Twitter user. The recent repeal of net neutrality could potentially halt the spreading of ideas deemed “extreme,” but the idea the Black lives matter isn’t a dangerous idea that needs to be censored.
The economic burden of the end of net neutrality will disproportionately impact Black communities as well. Black people have less disposable income than other racial groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, pay for Black women ranges from 48 to 69 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in those states.
A report from the Economic Policy Institute stated that more than one in four Black households have zero or negative net worth, compared to less than one in ten white families without wealth. Additionally, the average wealth for white families is seven times higher than average wealth for Black families.
Having to pay extra to access certain content on the internet will put an undue burden on Black Americans, creating a regressive tax, aka a tax that causes lower-income people to pay a larger share of their income than wealthier people.
The repeal of net neutrality sucks for pretty much anyone who isn’t a rich white man, whether you use the internet to make a living or you just like to scroll on Twitter and laugh at the latest meme, but it really, really sucks for Black folks. However, net neutrality isn't exactly dead yet: Congress can still overrule the FCC vote. If you want an open and accessible internet, you can write, text, or call your representatives to let them know you oppose the repeal of net neutrality.