Friday, January 17, 2014

Net Neutrality and Nonprofits

My work on digital civil society includes arguing that policies far beyond the tax code matter to our ability to use private resources for public benefits, autonomously and voluntarily, in the digital age. My colleague Rob Reich and I even went so far as to offer up a complete guide to the policy domains that matter - The Social Economy Policy Forecast 2013 - available (pdf) here

Our argument has fallen on a lot of deaf ears. Sure, we've had some interesting discussions with some of the DC-based nonprofit trade associations and the White House Office of Social Innovation has read and discussed the report with us and with some of their colleagues. But everyday I still start the conversation anew - trying to convince people that our ability to act philanthropically and of our own accord for the benefit of others depends on the rights to free association, the ability to maintain our privacy, and open access to the "public forums" of our times.

I was relieved to read this piece by Tom Watson on the implications of the recent ruling about net neutrality. He quotes Andrew Rasiej comparing the decision to the loss of the charitable tax deduction:
“Without net neutrality the non-profit sector will now be forced to compete directly with for profits on the cost of messaging,” said Andrew Rasiej, a serial social entrepreneur, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, and longtime activist for a free and open Internet. “For not-profit sector, loss of net neutrality may be as devastating as losing their tax free status because the cost of reaching their constituency will go so high as to be prohibitive.”
I agree. And I hope nonprofits and foundations will begin to pay more attention to these issues, preferable before more losses are felt.  Thanks, Tom, for a really important piece. Read it.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


Yes, Net Neutrality very important to civil society, including nonprofits (actually, to all non-commercial speech). Increasing access to the Internet is a civil rights issue and part of Pres. Obama's policy. Despite the court decision, the FCC still has power and authority to preserve neutrality, by treating the Internet providers as common carriers and so prohibited from discriminating (as Susan Crawford wrote in NYT this morning:

California Emerging Technology Fund (which funds my org - full disclosure), National Hispanic Media Coalition and other nonprofits are working to get more nonprofit leaders involved.

Thanks for your foresight in raising this issue for so long, let's hope more of us get involved.