Sunday, June 15, 2014

Verizon Using Disabilities to Fight Net Neutrality

On Friday, Mother Jones reported that it has three sources saying that Verizon lobbyists are making a case on Capitol Hill that net neutrality harms those with disabilities. From Mother Jones:

Three Hill sources tell Mother Jones that Verizon lobbyists have cited the needs of blind, deaf, and disabled people to try to convince congressional staffers and their bosses to get on board with the fast lane idea. But groups representing disabled Americans, including the National Association of the Deaf, the National Federation of the Blind, and the American Association of People with Disabilities are not advocating for this plan. Mark Perriello, the president and CEO of the AAPD, says that this is the "first time" he has heard "these specific talking points."

In the absence of seeing the language Verizon is using, I can only go on what Mother Jones reported (other news outlets covering this are linking back to Mother Jones). Given the amount of cash ISPs like Verizon are lobbying to kill net neutrality ($19 million in the first quarter of 2014 alone), I don't consider this report to be far-fetched. Certainly Verizon is unlikely to make this argument in the open — there will be a backlash when no proof is offered and disability rights groups shoot it down (as has been happening just on these rumors).

It seems to me it is in the best interest of net neutrality to react as if this report is true. Further, it seems like a good idea to make it clear disabilities cannot be used as a pawn in some armchair morality action, no matter how well elected officials feel it may poll.

I was pretty quick to jump on this on Twitter, mostly out of anger, and given the retweets and favorites from my meager following (particularly from the accessibility community) I suspect I am not alone. Feel free to retweet it to your followers (or write your own):

A quick Google search (or use your own search terms) will net you many results from people who think Verizon's reported argument is absurd (Won't somebody please think of the childrendisabled?).

I don't think my blog post, which ranks nowhere on Verizon's radar, will do much to sway its nor the FCC's opinion, but I do want to make sure I add to the growing chorus of people publicly denouncing something Verizon is arguing behind closed doors.

Related

In April I wrote a post about net neutrality (We Need to Raise a Stink about Net Neutrality) where I asked people to tweet to Tom Wheeler and the FCC. In it I include plenty of references and arguments, but this video from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (which I amended to my original post) does a better job of explaining net neutrality:

As John Oliver suggests, you can leave our own comments at the FCC site. As of a week ago there were 49,206 comments. As of this writing there are 115,213 comments. Only the most recent 10,000 comments are available to be viewed, which I cannot explain. Further, if you want to consider accessibility, as Verizon seemingly does, you may want to also ask the electronically filed responses be made available in a format other than PDF.

Update: July 25, 2014

Perhaps in reaction to the Verizon rumors, or just because the cause makes sense, on July 18 five different organizations related to accessibility filed their own joint comments with the FCC. The organizations are: Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN)), and the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Telecommunications Access (RERC-TA) along with Professor Clayton Lewis. Together they filed a brief, which you may read online (and which I have copied locally as I suspect this URL will be allowed to rot by the FCC), outlining their support of net neutrality. An excerpt:

[We] seek to promote equal access for the 48 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, deaf-blind, or deaf with mobility or cognitive disabilities to the informational, educational, cultural, and societal opportunities afforded by the telecommunications revolution.

The letter outlines six arguments in particular, with far more detail in its sixteen pages:

  1. Retaining and improving transparency rules will improve the ability of consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing to access the Internet on equal terms.
  2. A no-blocking rule would help ensure the availability of accessible telecommunications services for consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  3. The Commission should bar paid prioritization while ensuring that Internet-based services and applications are accessible to consumers who are deaf or head of hearing.
  4. Title II reclassification would afford the Commission additional flexibility to ensure that broadband services are accessible, and the Commission should exclude accessibility-related Title II provisions from forbearance if it reclassifies.
  5. The Commission should ensure that the enterprise services and premise operator exceptions avoid facilitating illegal discrimination against people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  6. The Commission should ensure that the use of data caps do not result in discrimination against people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The same day, the American Association of People with Disabilities and the National Council on Independent Living also filed their own joint letter with the FCC (also available from a non-FCC URL). In addition to an open internet, the letter argues for an ombudsman:

Over the past few years, Congress shifted the focus of universal service from mere availability to adoption and utilization. […] This important review of Open Internet policy provides an opportunity to ensure that people with disabilities have full and open access to broadband communications and enjoy the important consumer protections mentioned in our comments. […] An Ombudsman Office Can Monitor and Report on Access Issues Associated with Consumers with Disabilities

Ars covered the latter filing in its Tuesday post, "Deaf advocacy groups to Verizon: Don’t kill net neutrality on our behalf."

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