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Thursday, January 14, 2010

It's time for a broadband bill of rights for Latinos

It's time for a broadband bill of rights for Latinos
By Brent A. Wilkes Houston Chronicle

January 13, 2010

Universal broadband adoption is a key component of President Barack Obama's agenda. As his historic campaign demonstrated, a high-speed connection is a must-have tool for civic engagement in the 21st century. For sure, broadband technology is the ticket to economic and personal advancement in the new millennium; it's creating jobs, helping to raise student test scores, delivering health care to underserved populations, reducing carbon footprints and providing the gateway to news and entertainment. But for Latinos - the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. - this digital revolution is dampened by the lack of its adoption. Just 37 percent of Spanish-dominant Latinos actually subscribe to broadband at home. The Federal Communications Commission is now studying these issues and plans to report on a National Broadband Plan by February. Some are urging that the FCC not only focus on increasing universal broadband adoption but that it also revisit the open Internet rules that former FCC Chairman Michael Powell conceived in 2004 and which the FCC formally adopted in 2005. These standards are intended to ensure that consumers can visit any legal Web site and use any legal online application such as YouTube. For the most part, broadband providers (the phone, cable and wireless Internet service providers or ISPs) have honored the policy. In fact, there are few instances today that critics can point to where ISPs have blocked or hindered a consumer from visiting a legal Web site or utilizing an application, and the open Internet rules have always prevailed whenever there was an alleged transgression. But in deciding whether to supplement these open Internet rules with yet another layer of net-neutrality rules, the FCC should use caution. For sure, net-neutrality standards should protect against broadband providers engaging in anti-competitive behavior by blocking or inhibiting access to competing Web sites or content. But beyond that, online applications companies should not be able to exploit these rules for their own parochial benefit and, in particular, should not be able to use net-neutrality rules to shift the costs onto consumers for building broadband networks. The rapid rise in online video is doubling bandwidth consumption every two years, and the FCC estimates that even if we could build our way out of the problem, it would cost $350 billion. Broadband providers have two places to turn to help finance these costs: the Internet companies that make billions of revenue with applications that use and benefit from all the bandwidth, or consumers already struggling to make ends meet in a down economy. Some net-neutrality advocates are arguing that the FCC should adopt rules that would insulate Internet applications companies from having to bear any of the burden of these costs. The result would mean a de facto regressive "broadband tax" on consumers. That would hit nonadopters in the Latino community and elsewhere particularly hard, since considerable data show that such cost-shifting onto consumers would deter adoption. Net-neutrality rules should prevent broadband providers from engaging in anti-competitive behavior, but they should not be commandeered to insulate wealthy Internet applications companies from paying their fair share of the broadband bill. Any new rules must protect consumers both by ensuring their unfettered access and by shielding them from having to shoulder all the costs for faster broadband networks that our nation so badly needs. Such an approach will not please the special interests, but it will be a double win for consumers. Wilkes is the national executive director for the League of United Latin American Citizens, the country's largest and oldest Hispanic organization. Houston Chronicle Reader Comments Readers are solely responsible for the content of the comments they post here. Comments are subject to the site's terms and conditions of use and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or approval of the Houston Chronicle. Readers whose comments violate the terms of use may have their comments removed or all of their content blocked from viewing by other users without notification. 41magisfine wrote: Wilkes, you are an idiot. I'm sorry, I don't like to use labels, but the facts speak for themselves. Anyway you slice it, WE end up paying for Internet infastructure upgrades. Whether we do it through higher monthly fees or through higher taxes, either way we end up paying for it. The internet businesses pass the costs on to us, as they must do if they are going to stay in business. Who do you think is going to pay? There is no magical money tree to go and pluck!! As for your concern with the Latinos, back up a bit. A 37% market penetration isn't that bad! Especially when you consider that it is after all, a matter of choice. If 2/3 of the Latinos don't want broadband, that is their right! What do you propose? Perhaps some kind of broadband bill like the health care bill which mandates that every Latino purchase broadband service or face fines and penalties???? Also, why aren't you concerned with other ethnic populations and the percentages of them who have broadband? Are you racist??? I think so.... 1/13/2010 8:33:08 PM houstonareareader wrote: The cold facts are that some cultures and ethnic groups have self-induced historical disadvantages which do not become an obligation for others to correct. If any group is slow to adopt new technologies, is uneducated, or averse to a high-tech lifestyle, it is that group's obligation to correct those flaws and does not become an obligation of others even if it may be to the advantage of everybody to do so.

1/13/2010 9:55:42 PM

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