Why Minorities Oppose Utility Regulations on the Internet | Commentary

Posted December 15, 2014 at 3:08pm

Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and even the executive branch, continue to grapple with net neutrality and whether or not the government should reclassify the Internet as a public utility.

The Hispanic Technology and Telecom Partnership, along with the vast majority of civil rights organizations representing both Latinos and African Americans, opposes such a move out of concern that it would discourage investment in, and expansion of, the Internet. The civil rights community has strongly favored Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act as a lighter touch and a more practicable way to ensure an Open Internet that would be accessible to all, incapable of being degraded or throttled and provide greater transparency.

New studies have emerged, however, that portend a far more ominous outcome if the 1934 rotary phone era regulations encompassed in Title II apply to All Things Internet.

Title II of the Telecommunications Act brings with it a full complement of regulations designed for voice communications as opposed to data transmission. It also brings with it a host of Federal and State fees that currently do not apply to All Things Internet.

According to a recently published study by Robert Litan, a senior fellow at Brookings, and Hal Singer, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, consumers will now be subject to state, local and federal fees ranging from $51 to $83 per year. The current average price for wireless residential broadband in the U.S. is $44.75 per month for 15-20 Mbps according to a recent study by the Open Technology Institute. The end result is a 10 to 20 percent increase in cost to consumers just for accessing the Internet.

As of last year, 24 percent of Latinos don’t use the Internet. Nearly 1 in 4 (19 percent) cite cost as the reason. No one knows exactly how badly Latinos will be hit should the FCC adopt Title II or even the hybrids they’ve been floating because no one at the FCC or in the Administration has taken the time or invested the resources to find out.

It is assumed that Latinos with access to high speed Internet are aware of its importance in their daily lives. How many will be forced to opt out of this essential tool? Or, if they remain connected, what other necessities will they dispense with to accommodate the increased costs? And what exactly happens to the 20 percent who currently cite price as the reason for not connecting? It is doubtful that they will somehow now be perversely incented by higher cost to access the Internet.

So as the FCC readies it’s decision in 2015, there are still a multitude of unanswered questions and realistic unintended consequences. Before the FCC makes its decision on net neutrality rules, it should weigh the financial and economic costs associated with any rules and determine a path that is legally sustainable.

The Internet is a technology founded upon scientific principles. While we can manipulate technology to meet our needs, we cannot manipulate depression era regulations for modern day technology and expect it to perform as intended.

If we truly want to ensure the next best technology comes to market and communities of color adopt broadband technology to enrich their lives — applying 1930’s regulations to the Internet is not the path forward. The responsible path forward is for the FCC or Congress to develop a fresh policy approach that protects and preserves an open Internet and accounts for the rapidly changing and dynamic nature of today’s Internet.

Martin Chavez is a former three-term mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a New Mexico state senator and is currently a senior adviser to HTTP, an organization representing 19 national Latino organizations.