Las Vegas Sun

December 10, 2018

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GUEST COLUMN:

Limited net neutrality effort could hurt Nevada Latinos, rural residents

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree about the need for strong protections that ensure a free and open internet for all.

In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal 1930s-era regulations known as Title II, which were applied to the internet in 2015 and led to diminished investment in broadband infrastructure expansion. Following months of heated debate on both sides of the net neutrality issue, a group of congressional lawmakers is now attempting to reinstate Title II by using the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress the ability to reverse federal rules by a simple majority and presidential signature if the action is initiated within 60 days.

This approach could not only fail to protect Nevada consumers but could also prevent Latinos and other minority communities from fully participating in the promise of a free and open internet.

There are several problems with the CRA process. For example, it does not allow for more than 10 hours of debate on the floor and cannot be filibustered. This scenario sets up a rushed process that cuts off any meaningful and thoughtful debate and bypasses any input from the public. Even considering the disagreement over the way to ensure a free and open internet, generally speaking, this is not a fair and open way to overturn federal rulings that were voted on and passed.

Reinstatement of Title II by an internet CRA represents a worrisome return to old policies that can curb the investment necessary for bringing high-speed internet to more minority communities, which still lag in home broadband access and rely heavily on mobile devices to get online. Thus, heavy-handed Title II rules could disproportionately affect the more than 329,000 Latino residents of Nevada. And minority communities are not alone; many Nevada's 270,000-plus rural residents face significant challenges connecting.

Title II is not the right mechanism to keep an open internet and to give high-speed access to underserved communities. Weeks after the Title II rules initially took effect, the FCC began receiving letters from small, rural internet providers pulling back from upgrades due to added legal costs. Places such as Chaparral, N.M., where more than 80 percent of the population is Latino, and Warner Robins, Ga., 45 percent Latino and African-American, were just some of the communities affected.

Too many Americans still cannot reliably access the benefits of high-speed internet, such as online education and skills training services that can help them participate in a changing 21st century economy and workforce. They cannot use affordable and convenient telemedicine services that can improve the health of communities where doctors are few and far between. And outdated rules will not improve these situations.

An internet CRA is not the way to address the needs of all stakeholders in the internet ecosystem. To thrive, the internet and consumers need congressional legislation that strikes the right balance between an open internet and sparking investment and new innovation that gives every Nevadan the ability to connect to high-speed broadband no matter where they live. But to make this happen, we need a robust debate that acknowledges the needs and concerns of minority and rural communities currently underserved by broadband, and currently not the focus of enough attention in the halls of Congress.

The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership has and will always strongly advocate for a free and open internet that is accessible to all Americans, especially Latinos who continue to be on the wrong side of the digital divide, to be able to prosper in our internet-based society. HTTP will also continue to call for fair, strong and comprehensive pro-consumer net neutrality rules for the entire internet ecosystem.

Rosa Mendoza is the executive director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, a nonpartisan coalition dedicated to advocating for access, adoption and the full utilization of technology and telecommunications resources by the Hispanic community in the United States.