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Asian-American Groups At Odds Over Net Neutrality Debate

Civil rights groups are split over whether net neutrality would benefit or disadvantage Asian Americans.
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Despite agreement on the importance of the internet for the Asian-American community, some Asian-American civil rights groups now find themselves at odds over which side to support in the net neutrality debate.

The National Minority Organizations—a coalition of 42 Asian American, African American, and Hispanic groups—raised eyebrows recently by submitting comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against net neutrality, and in favor of deregulating Internet Service Providers.

The coalition argues that they favor a free and open internet, and that “The only disagreement before the [Federal Communications] Commission is on the means to achieve this goal.”

As part of their argument, the coalition emphasized the impact of ISP investment, saying net neutrality would have a "stifling" effect.

“Communities of color respectfully request a policy agenda that enables first class digital citizenship"

“Communities of color respectfully request a policy agenda that enables first class digital citizenship and continues to stimulate investment in broadband innovation and infrastructure," the coalition said in comments. "Our nation cannot afford the impact that Title II reclassification would have on stifling broadband adoption among vulnerable populations and limiting the investment and innovation that have benefitted our constituents.”

But some Asian-American groups, like 18MillionRising and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), are arguing that a policy of net neutrality is central to their community -– which boasts some of the highest internet usage in America, a vibrant range of independent content creators, and is consistently contending with a lack of culturally and linguistically relevant content.

“Trusting the free market on this is an exercise in folly, at best.”

“There's a strong human and civil rights case for strong protections of internet rights,” said 18MillionRising's New Media Director Cayden Mak. His group began a campaign to encourage OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates and the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) to reverse their stand, “Trusting the free market on this is an exercise in folly, at best.”

“A free and open Internet ecosystem is critically important to the Asian American community, a third of whom are limited English proficient (LEP),” said Carl Hum, AAJC's VP of Policy and Programs. “The internet provides these LEP members of our community access to critical information and services in their native languages and creates opportunities for on-line education, particularly for English learners."

Haruka Roudebush, Secretary of the San Francisco JACL chapter, says the coalition's comments do not reflect the views of all member organizations, signaling further division within the community over where net neutrality benefits or disadvantages Asian Americans.

“The letter does not reflect any consensus within the organization because this issue was not discussed and decided upon by any national body, be it the national board of the JACL or the National Council comprised of delegates representing the individual chapters of the organization," said Roudebush.