If you follow tech policy, especially as it relates to the Latino community in the U.S., you should check out the interesting blog posted by my friend Alejandro Roark over at HTTP on the need to spur faster broadband access for underserved communities. For Latinos, and all too many children lacking high-speed internet access, broadband deployment is a crucial issue. Congress cannot continue to kick the can down the road. Federal laws need to be updated to encourage more broadband deployment, preferably while also improving our online privacy protections.
As an example of the urgency, we are looking at the possibility of yet another under count of the U.S. Latino population in the 2020 Census. A 2019 Techdirt article noted, “lack of internet access for the growing Latino population undermines our democracy thanks to a shift to online counting….” Without the resource allocation of an accurate Census count, our communities will continue to fall behind. And in this case, the lack of internet access could mean the difference between equal opportunity and living in the shadows.
Good will alone will not help meet the needs of underserved communities. Recent history bolsters the idea that Congress has to take action on modernizing our laws to promote more broadband deployment. During the past few years, we’ve seen clear examples of how complicated and expensive it is to establish new broadband service. Back in 2014, after Japan’s Softbank purchased Sprint, Softbank’s CEO came to the U.S. and said his company would soon have wireless Internet service so good it would inspire other companies. Things didn’t work out.
In 2010, Google announced an ambitious fiber to the home project and more than 1,100 communities pitched for the service. Barely 7 years later, the company’s investment plummeted amid slow deployment and lack of subscribers.
Members of Congress are wrangling over changes to Federal internet policy with online privacy and net neutrality at the top. Recently Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) floated a bipartisan compromise on net neutrality. We have reason to be optimistic that Congress is taking these issues very seriously, but any solution is incomplete without provisions for faster broadband deployment.
We cannot continue to relegate underserved communities to searching for wifi in the nearest restaurant or parking lot so their kids can complete their homework, or so that they can apply for jobs, search for needed information, or simply check email. A broadband deployment plan to connect underserved and rural populations is critical to leveling the playing field and providing access to all communities, regardless of their socio-economic status or proximity to existing infrastructure.
Federal communications law hasn’t changed since 1996 and it’s long past time for Congress to modernize it for consumers with clear rules and uniform standards for all parties in the internet ecosystem. If done correctly, civil rights can be protected online and access can be provided to those in most need. Congress can get a win for the country.