Universal Open Broadband: An Attainable Reality
By: Jessica J. Gonzalez and Parul P. Desai
We all seem to agree broadband is vital to the success of the Latino community. Broadband Internet access allows people of color to tell our own stories fairly and accurately, and to pursue educational, occupational and social opportunities that are only available over the web.
By-and-large Latinos do not own traditional media outlets. This previously has meant that Latinos have had to seek access to share their stories through traditional media gatekeepers, mostly powerful corporate conglomerates such as television networks, movie studios and record labels. Yet with its low barriers to entry, the Internet has allowed communities of color to speak for ourselves – it is one of the few places where we can respond to the vitriolic anti-Latino rhetoric that airs unopposed on some mainstream media outlets.
The Internet also allows us to create our own economic opportunities. It is a tool for small business owners to effectively reach customers with only a computer and an Internet connection. This provides a remedy for the discrimination people of color have faced in the past in accessing capital and investment opportunities.
Without network neutrality, these immense opportunities will be lost. Net neutrality ensures that all Internet users can access any lawful websites, services, or applications of their choice without interference or discrimination by corporate Internet service providers (“ISPs”). Otherwise, ISPs could block content or degrade connections to websites whose owners cannot afford to pay extra costs beyond standard broadband connection rates. The only ones who will be able to pay those extra costs for special access are companies with deep pockets and not small business owners or a budding entrepreneur with a good idea. That means, once again, that corporate conglomerates will be able to decide what we can hear, see, and say in the media space.
We are pleased to see so much attention being paid to “net neutrality,” however we are discouraged by the amount of misinformation on the issue and would like to set the record straight.
Contrary to some claims, net neutrality will not “broaden the digital divide.” Indeed, data indicate that net neutrality rules could help to narrow the digital divide. Telephone company investment in broadband deployment was higher and rose substantially during the time when they were subject to net neutrality-like regulations stemming from the 1996 Telecommunication Act.
In reality, many providers have dragged their feet when it comes to building out in communities of color. Yet, we are supposed to believe that if they thwart enactment of net neutrality rules that they will immediately deploy broadband into our communities? Nor will net neutrality rules somehow force ISPs to increase prices to help pay for the cost of deployment. Should we really believe that broadband providers, if able to charge for special access, will use their additional revenue to reduce costs for consumers as opposed to paying higher dividends to their shareholders?
Regardless of whether net neutrality rules are adopted, consumers will bear the costs for network infrastructure. At the end of the day, decisions on investment and deployment will not be dictated by whether there are net neutrality regulations; providers will build where there is demand. Net neutrality creates demand in communities of color because it ensures that the content and innovations that are attracting people of color to adopt broadband access remain accessible and visible.
Moreover, consumers will not end up subsidizing online corporate companies. Every online company pays for its own bandwidth. If they want more bandwidth, then they pay more, and wealthy online corporate businesses do pay a great deal for their bandwidth. Net neutrality rules do not disrupt this system.
Nor will net neutrality rules prevent ISPs from reasonable network management. The FCC’s proposal makes it very plain that all rules are “subject to reasonable network management,” and apply only to protect distribution of and access to “lawful” content, services and applications. This means that ISPs can still prevent spam and virus attacks and deal with network congestion in a reasonable manner. For this same reason, net neutrality is not an end-run around copyright laws.
At the end of the day, it is a false choice to have to choose between an open Internet and access to broadband. We should and CAN have both.
Jessica J. Gonzalez currently serves as Policy Counsel to the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the image of American Latinos as portrayed by the media, increase the number of American Latinos employed in all facets of the media industry, and advocate for media and telecommunication policies that benefit the Latino community.
Parul P. Desai is Vice President of Media Access Project, a non-profit, public interest law firm and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, independent media, and low-cost, universal access to communications services.