Home » Digital Divide » Let’s Put the Net Neutrality Debate to Rest

By Jason Llorenz, Esq.
Executive Director, HTTP

Some of the nation’s most respected Latino institutions – including those organizations working daily to close the digital divide for Latinos — LULAC, US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, LCLAA, ASPIRA, Hispanic Federation, and many others — have been engaged for years on a policy issue carrying the label and slogan, “Net Neutrality.” This little-understood debate over proposed Internet regulations carries wide consequences for Hispanics and other vulnerable communities as the nation evolves in the global, digital economy. In fact, Latinos have the most at stake. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, only 39.7% of Latinos have access to broadband in their homes. And now, after a long series of meetings and comments, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski has proposed a compromise framework for putting the debate over Net Neutrality to rest. The proposed framework, to be codified in a yet to be released order which details remain unknown, and voted on by the FCC Commissioners on December 21st, is an important occasion for Latino community advocates who have long argued for a sensible solution to net neutrality that would facilitate the investments in, and innovation of technology that allows new models to close the digital divide.

Our community’s goal in these years of advocacy has been to put the distracting Net Neutrality debate behind us while maintaining the open Internet that has always characterized its success. Our leaders and advocates, many of which actually work in communities providing digital literacy training, want to get the nation focused on the real work of connecting communities, achieving digitally fluency, and spreading the economic benefits of broadband and digital technology to all Americans. They know their communities’ needs because they actually work in real ways to serve them.

What is Net Neutrality? Why Does It Matter to Latinos?

For those who don’t follow technology issues daily, and especially for advocates of fairness and justice, Net Neutrality carries an appealing label.  Net neutrality regulations, as originally proposed, include six principles, which hold that users of the Internet may:

  1. Access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
  2. Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
  3. Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network;  it also provides for:
  4. Competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers,
  5. The nondiscrimination principle that ISPs must not discriminate against any content or applications, and
  6. The transparency principle, which requires that ISPs disclose all their policies to customers.

Advocates far and wide, including our most prominent national Latino leaders, have endorsed principles 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Despite misinformed blogs and the sloganeering that ensued, the most respected national Latino institutions support a continued open Internet and sensible rules for maintaining all legal content available via the web in an open, transparent environment. Communicating that in a slogan or slick email heading isn’t so easy. Newer organizations and coalitions promote the idea that Latino leaders do not support the open Internet, which is clearly inapposite to their nuanced positions on this complex issue.  While advocates on both sides of the debate agree on much more than is made obvious our public comments, there is a key differentiator that can not be explained with a slogan.

The question becomes, why is rule #5 controversial? Isn’t non-discrimination a good thing? The idea of non-discrimination sounds like something we should apply to our lives. It actually takes a much closer look. Net regulation is, in many ways, a fight over business models with wide consequences – the content providers (e.g. Facebook, Amazon, etc.) have pursued legal guarantees through Net Neutrality regulation that their content would not be discriminated against, nor slowed, while guaranteeing that their companies would also not have to pay toward the billions of dollars it takes to maintain the Internet networks through which their businesses deliver “free” content every day. On the other side are the companies that wire communities for the Internet and deliver that content (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc.) who annually spend billions of dollars in building, maintaining, and upgrading the networks, and must continue to do so, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decades.

The compromise reflected in the Chairman’s proposed framework keeps all content available via the web, subject to reasonable network management, so that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can keep the networks functioning; it mandates transparency; and prevents discrimination of applications and the cool stuff that gives all of us an exciting experience on the web. Importantly, the framework also leaves the opportunity to develop new business models and pricing structures that can help poor communities to access affordable broadband and, perhaps even spread the cost of new broadband infrastructure through novel public and private partnerships. Latino communities would benefit most from new business models and partnerships that make broadband less expensive. They must be served through new opportunities to connect to the web. A more stringent application of Net Neutrality simply would not allow this.

The details of the actual order to be voted on are still to be seen. But the compromise framework that we look forward to see codified in the Chairman’s order, if reflective of its coverage, includes the input of community advocates, conversations among the nation’s largest companies, and advocacy by political leaders in moderating this debate to truly find a workable solution.

The Chairman’s proposed framework also aligns with Latino advocates who have wanted clear rules that guarantee that all legal content remain available via the web, but does not place the entire cost of new broadband build out, nor impose unreasonable, inflexible standards that may harm consumers’ Internet experiences, as proposed Net Neutrality rules, if implemented, would have.

If the December 21st order remains faithful to the proposed framework, we may finally be able to leave the Net Neutrality debate in the rear-view mirror and focus on the work we all care about  — connecting communities, training them and finding new ways to keep America competitive in the digital age.

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