CNN: 'Old guard' civil rights groups blew it on net neutrality


(CNN) The Federal Communications Commission got it right on "net neutrality."

So did President Obama, who took a bold stand in favor of keeping the Internet free.

So did leaders such as Reps. John Lewis, Keith Ellison and Maxine Waters, and the Rev. William Barber II, one of the architects of "Moral Mondays" protests and a member of the national board of the NAACP. So did the United Church of Christ, as well as more than 100 social justice and civil rights groups.

And so did countless progressive, people-powered groups, such as Color of Change, an online community (which I helped to found) dedicated to bringing about positive change for African-Americans. Ditto for tiny, grassroots dynamos like Oakland's Center for Media Justice, led by Malkia Cyril.

You know who got it dead, dead wrong? As much as it pains me to say it: Far too many of our old-school civil rights organizations.

Since the first days of the Internet, one principle has been in place. Put simply, it is that "owning the pipes" does not give you license to mess with what flows through them.

Internet service providers (ISPs) can charge a fee to provide Internet access. But they cannot block or censor content they do not like, or charge for a fast lane, or relegate companies that do not pay up to slow Internet speeds that could frustrate customers.

All the FCC did this week was keep that principle in place.

They made sure the Internet will work the same way the phones do -- a call to the small business down the street does not sound worse or cost more than one to a big chain store.

ISPs like Verizon and Comcast stood to make a killing from blocking this change. But what is shocking is that some trusted civil rights organizations -- including the National Urban League, NAACP, and Rainbow Push -- actively helped the ISPs make their case.

Worst of all, it was a completely avoidable error.

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