Recently, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his plan to use antiquated, 20th Century telephone rules to help protect Internet openness in the 21st Century. The move puts at risk some of the crucial policy initiatives that Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association and organizations have championed for years: increasing broadband adoption and digital literacy in Latino households, promoting continued investment in broadband technologies and creating high-tech business
opportunities for Latino entrepreneurs in emerging fields like “Big Data and Health Technology” that rely on advanced broadband technology.
Hispanic households have been closing the Digital Divide in terms of home broadband adoption in recent years, and that’s a good sign. But now is not the time to put those gains in jeopardy by implementing policies that threaten to impact the price of broadband service, which for years has ranked among the most affordable in the developed world. By reclassifying Internet service as a utility-style telecommunications service, as Chairman Wheeler proposes, the FCC will be doing exactly that. For starters, reclassification threatens to force the cost of all future networks upgrades onto consumers, permitting online video giants like Netflix (companies with abysmal records on workforce diversity) to get consumer-subsidized bandwidth for their increasingly massive amounts of Web traffic. But more directly, as reclassification supporters as well as independent think tanks like the Progressive Policy Institute have agreed, the FCC’s proposal could subject broadband customers to a whole host of new regulatory fees on their monthly bills, costing us billions of dollars every year. For families that spent the last few years pinching every penny, this is a rate hike they can do without.
Reclassification also calls into question the future of investment in broadband networks. The NAACP reports that Internet Service Providers account for more than 80% of all Internet sector investments, and these companies also hire three times as many Latino employees as companies like Facebook and LinkedIn. But according to a recent American Enterprise Institute/Sonecon study, reclassification could lead to as much as a $45 billion reduction in broadband investment over the next five years. This would be a stunning reversal considering that Internet Service Providers have been among the top investors in America, flooding $70 billion each year into networks and equipment and, admirably, $250 billion during the Great Recession while other industries hoarded their cash. President Obama even praised the industry for this leadership in a 2013 report.
Finally, the opportunities for Latino entrepreneurs in the new markets that the Internet has enabled are a direct result of these investments. If reclassification stymies that investment then the Internet’s robust foundation for new services and products begins to wither. Imagine where we would be without the broadband investment that has enabled the “App Economy” that has made wealthy entrepreneurs of people willing to learn to code and created 750,000 jobs since 2007?
Protecting the Internet as an open environment for communication, collaboration and commerce is the noblest of tech policy goals. How we achieve that goal is equally important, however, and I fear that the FCC’s proposal has taken us two steps backward.