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Summit Speakers Want More Broadband Access For Minorities, Criticize Net Neutrality

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WASHINGTON, November 18, 2009 - The opening speaker of a summit focused on improving broadband penetration to minority and low-income areas of the country, and criticized advocates of Net neutrality for being out of touch with the needs of minorities, as he attempted to enlist the mantle civil rights leader Martin Luther King into his cause.

“[L]et us remember the worlds of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face-to-face with another problem,’” said Julius Hollis, the founder of the Alliance for Digital Equality, in prepared remarks.

“If we fail to find common-ground on the issues before the U.S. Federal Communications Commission relative to the rulemaking governing broadband adoption, the financing of broadband infrastructure and the over-arching issue of net neutrality, the long-term socio-economic chaos that will be inflicted upon our society would be far too devastating to comprehend,” warned Hollis.

Hollis delivered his remarks Wednesday during his group’s 2009 Minority Broadband Summit, which was held at the Newseum with roses on the table and a view of the Washington skyline.

Hollis dove into the issue of Net neutrality or whether the FCC should step in and regulate internet access to ensure an “open internet” further by noting that Alliance for Digital Equality has joined 72 Democratic members of Congress to ask the FCC to take a balanced approach in their rulemaking “to ensure that well-intended policies won’t have the net effect of dislodging minorities and low income communities, who are more adversely and disproportionally impacted due to broadband escalating costs.”

Hollis said that internet service providers should not “abuse the public trust of deliberating fostering traffic shaping over the Internet in order to stymie political or civic discourse or discriminate against low-income consumers.”

On the Alliance for Digital Equality Web site, the group describes ( its position on the net neutrality issue. “Most arguments for network neutrality fail to account for the very real economic constraints facing the disadvantaged, underserved, and un-served communities that we and the [Congressional Black Causus] represent.”

The group continues – after taking a slam at so-called “net roots” activists – that “our constituents are more at risk of being blocked from participating in the digital future due to rising price pressures and lack of investment in broadband infrastructure precipitated by ill-conceived, empirically unsupported, and hastily formulated regulations than a slowly loading web page.”

During the summit, CNN Contributor Roland Martin, who moderated the conference, joked that the term “Net neutrality” means nothing to the average person and the debate needs to be discussed in a way people can understand.

During the morning panel representatives from companies discussed ways they were getting Internet tools out to minorities and panelists emphasized the importance of improving broadband access in the U.S.

The “digital revolution” will “truly enhance political and civic discourse in our nation, as well as potentially temper the polarization of some of our cultural differences, which have been cleverly used for political gains by surrogates in order to allow a few amongst us to economically prosper for untold generations to come,” said Hollis.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers for America – which has not been seen as an advocate for Net neutrality – noted that it will take hundreds of billions of dollars, mostly from the private sector, to get the Internet where it should be.

Jay Sanders, president of the Global Telemedicine Group, referred to broadband as the “umbilical cord” for healthcare. Tony Clayton, chairman of the Southern University System, said cell phones are being used to fight crimes in the south.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a professor with Northeastern University, said she thinks part of the challenge in increasing broadband penetration is that not everyone sees the “relevance of the Internet” or the value it could add to their daily lives.

Gregory Fehribach, an attorney, said that 70 percent of people with disabilities are underemployed or not employed and that the struggling economy has hit this group of people more than anyone else. Not only does internet access enable people with disabilities to search for jobs but it “may be the only type of interface these people have with the outside world,” he said.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, stopped in to mention how important broadband access is to lessening the digital divide. He said he likes the quote from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates that “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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