How Net Neutrality Impacts Chicago Nonprofits

Why we need net neutrality from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo

With the February 27th  #OneMoreVote campaign on February 27th to overturn the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality, many organizations – including Chicago nonprofits – may not understand the full implications of not taking action. And with the FCC repeal entering the Federal Register, it is easy to assume that online headline announcing “Net neutrality is dead”  are true. After all, many nonprofits are struggling to “make do with less”, and this might be just another situation to simply accept as part of their workload…but net neutrality is not just about the cliche “pay-five-extra-dollars-for-Twitter”.

Net Neutrality is still alive and kicking…and recent events have revealed that Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, has focused on prioritizing digital access for businesses and corporate interests over the greater community. And many Chicago nonprofits would advocate that digital access is a basic human right.


First, thanks to Ajit Pai’s dismantling of Net Neutrality, programs that provide broadband services to underserved communities will lose funding. Although there are efforts (notably in the Woodlawn neighborhood) to establish local broadband communities, many states (including Illinois) are suing and/or enacting laws to preserve net neutrality. Many Chicago nonprofits that provide needed services to our communities will find it more difficult to engage their constituents online. (And for those who support Ajit Pai’s efforts, the Chicago Public Library’s Internet-to-Go program would also face potential funding issues).

Since many Chicago nonprofits use online tools and strategies to engage their supporters, having limits on their access also means making tougher marketing and outreach decisions. Nonprofits that focus on recovery issues around substance abuse and domestic violence may shift to a more web-based strategy because access to social media engagement would cost extra. Many nonprofits have filed a joint lawsuit against the FCC to restore net neutrality…and what makes these actions more reprehensible is that Ajit Pai is being investigated for possible collusion with Sinclair Broadcasting.

But right now, there is hope: currently, Senator Ed Markey has introduced a repeal through the Congressional Review Act, and a similar measure was introduced in the House. As it stands, the CRA has up to 60 legislative days to move forward, and they need one more vote in the Senate. Despite the “Net neutrality is dead” headlines, there is still an opportunity to take action – and you can find all sorts of tools via

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

On February 27th, Chicago nonprofits should encourage every level of staff – from leadership to administration to front line – to contact their legislator in support of the CRA. (Obviously, this means following IRS guidelines for appropriate political action and lobbying). In preparation, you are all more than welcome to share this post via social media like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn – there’s plenty of information to share with your colleagues (and would not count towards “substantial” effort towards influencing legislation). Chicago nonprofits can also adopt strategies for “pushing back” when their Internet service provider (ISP) engages in less-than-favorable behavior.

But Chicago nonprofits really need to take action sooner rather than later. At a time when our city is seen (erroneously) as excessively violent, we need to strengthen our community and fight for our principles. Net neutrality may seem like a relatively insignificant issue, but for those Chicago nonprofits who are struggling with serving a large number of people with a lack of resources…it’s no longer about productivity.

It’s about survival.

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And as always, thanks for reading!

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