CWA’s ‘Speed Matters’ Campaign: Defending an Open, High-Speed Internet

Editor’s Note: A viewpoint in our February issue charged that the Communications Workers endorsed weak “net neutrality” rules in order to give AT&T and Verizon the incentive to build more high-speed internet. “Net neutrality” would mean that providers are not allowed to slow down access to websites or wireless apps that don’t pay extra for priority treatment.

For five years, CWAers across the country have worked with allies, including major civil rights organizations, the Sierra Club, and others, to build a campaign to bring high-speed internet to rural and urban America.

Our Speed Matters campaign has been very successful in persuading members of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and scores of elected officials that the dismal rate of U.S. internet build-out critically affects our economic development, and that the lack of high-speed broadband in rural and lower-income urban communities harms those residents. Currently, the U.S. is near the bottom of the industrialized nations in internet speed, access, and affordability.

The Speed Matters campaign also focused on protecting an “open internet,” putting forward a vision of “net neutrality” that would ensure every person’s ability to go anywhere they want, when they want, to obtain any legal content.

The campaign recognized the link between investment and network management (the ability to control congestion), and stressed that good access to all websites is a key priority.

Last year the FCC, in its National Broadband Plan, endorsed many principles of the Speed Matters campaign. The plan set specific speed benchmarks for 2015 and 2020, including 100 megabyte capacity service to anchor institutions such as schools, hospitals, and libraries. Without these speed benchmarks, many critical applications in telemedicine, education, and energy conservation simply won’t be available to Americans.


In Labor Notes’ February issue, two United Electrical Workers colleagues called out CWA for taking what the authors considered unprincipled positions on net neutrality. They concluded that our union was more interested in the position of CWA employers than the public as a whole. This view is uninformed and wrong.

CWA has consistently called for both network build-out and an open internet. Currently CWA is part of a coalition working to protect rules governing the open Internet, and we’re joined by other net neutrality voices like Free Press and Public Knowledge.



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At the same time, one of CWA’s major telecom employers, Verizon, is suing the FCC to prevent implementation of its recently adopted open internet regulations.

CWA supports the FCC rule changes because for the first time, federal regulators will have the authority to enforce net neutrality provisions. Those rules prohibit blocking of any websites by broadband providers, and specifically frown upon any attempt to slow websites that don’t pay for priority service.

We urged allies to join with us to pass legislation enshrining the FCC open-internet principles into law.


Although noted consumer advocate Congressman Henry Waxman offered such legislation (which we supported and which gained virtually unanimous support from the left), it came too late, too close to an election in which the right wing smelled blood, and the effort died. This is far from the charge that CWA united with employers for short-term reasons.

Now, CWA and others are defending an FCC open-internet regulation that is under attack from the right wing in Congress. We are searching for ways to finance a world-class internet of 100 megabyte capacity to 100 million homes, and we have united with civil rights, environmental, and other consumer groups in efforts to bridge a growing digital divide.

The goal of U.S. policy must be to ensure accessibility and affordability of high-speed broadband for all Americans. That’s what CWA has been working for, and will continue to work for through our Speed Matters campaign.

George Kohl is CWA's Senior Director of Collective Bargaining & Technology

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #384, March 2011. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.