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Immigration Debate Twist: Internet Access and Net Neutrality

May 10, 2010

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - People in the midst of the immigration debate say it's intertwined with another issue, one that might be surprising: universal broadband access and net neutrality. They're two big issues that might be more related than they seem. Migrant advocacy groups celebrated last week when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would regulate broadband in much the same way as telephone networks. Telephone service is essentially treated as a universal service that all Americans should have access to.

George Lujan, communications organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project, says the Internet has played a major role in the ongoing drama over Arizona's new immigration law.

"From news websites and everybody's blogs, all across Facebook, the entire social media network, really, it was inescapable for a couple of weeks now."

The FCC recently unveiled its new broadband plan, which includes plans to extend broadband access to all Americans over the next decade. Lujan says rural, migrant and low-income communities are among those still most likely to lack broadband access and the opportunities that come with it. Grassroots groups are calling the FCC announcement a big victory, and one that wouldn't have been possible without organizing done over the Internet.

Lujan says he's optimistic that the recent FCC regulation decision will also strengthen the argument for preserving net neutrality, which prevents telecom companies from shutting off, or slowing, certain types of information on the Internet.

"It's very scary to think that we might even face a future where we're closing down that communication, where instead of hearing more about what's going on, we're hearing less and less."

Lujan says keeping the Internet open is important to the work that migrant advocates do, as well as to maintaining communications with family across political borders, and even helping develop small businesses.

Broadband companies argue that they should be able to operate their networks as they see fit, and in at least one legal ruling, a court agreed.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM