Opinion Piece: “Net Neutrality will negatively impact prices and innovation”

HLF President Mario H. Lopez has an op-ed in today’s Rio Grande Guardian () discussing the issue of “Net Neutrality” and the harmful impact such regulations would have on the Latino community. You can read the piece below or at the Gaurdian’s site here.

Net Neutrality will negatively impact prices and innovation

By Mario H. Lopez
Sunday, August 15, 2010

Congress has a number of issues on its plate, and this week, they returned to Washington to spend more taxpayer money in the name of stimulus policies that have yet to produce any results over the last year and a half.

If Congress wanted to do something positive for economic growth, especially in South Texas and similar areas, one item they could address – with a consensus behind it that is rare in Washington these days – is that of broadband deployment. Making sure that the full power of one of the greatest technological innovations of our lifetime – the Internet – reaches as many Americans as possible is extremely important on a number of fronts.

Technology use among Latinos, and specifically Internet use, has been increasing substantially over the last decade. The growth rate for Hispanic Internet access has outpaced all adults in the U.S. since 2004, according to Scarborough Research. Internet use is instrumental for nearly every aspect of our lives, and is invaluable for education, small businesses, career advancement, and health care.

But broadband access in Texas is lagging – and today, less than 70 percent of Hispanic families are online nationwide. This represents an unnecessary obstacle to innovation, opportunity, and job creation.

The good news is that broadband access and adoption have broad, bipartisan support in Congress. Members of both Republican and Democrat parties agree that bringing broadband to all Americans is a national priority as we continue to try and rebuild our economy in the 21st century.

Another benefit is that more broadband will mean more jobs for Texans. The infrastructure for broadband creates jobs and spurns economic growth in many areas that have significant Hispanic populations.

But standing in the way of the multitude of benefits that come with increased broadband access is the federal government. Bureaucrats have been distracted by a misguided policy that would result in government interference of the Internet. The FCC’s plan to implement so-called net neutrality would affect all consumers, and would negatively impact prices and innovation.

“Net neutrality,” simply put, involves the government dictating to Internet service providers how they treat information traveling through their vast and complex networks. It is merely a problem in search of a solution. The Internet has been an outstanding model of innovation and consumer satisfaction, and heavy-handed government regulation of it makes no sense at all. Net neutrality will directly hurt businesses, residents, taxpayers and residents in the Rio Grande Valley.

Regardless of whether or not you think it’s a good idea to have government intervention in other segments of the economy-bailouts and takeovers of the auto industry, banks and the health care industry-there is little doubt that the Internet has thrived in a system that puts control and power in the hands of consumers and individuals, not unelected Washington bureaucrats at the FCC.

What is also troubling is the Hispanic population would be disproportionately affected by these regulations and would hurt small businesses, which are the often overlooked engine that drives American job creation. Latinos start small businesses at a rate three times that of the general population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In other words, anything that negatively affects small businesses will disproportionately affect Hispanic small businesses and Hispanic jobs.

Fortunately, there are many Texans who have seen the light on this issue, including Congressman Henry Cuellar, who joined Rep. Gene Green and many of their House and Senate colleagues in voicing concerns about the negative consequences of net neutrality. In their letter to the FCC, they pushed to make broadband development a priority and oppose net neutrality regulations. The letter also voices their reservations about how a significant shift in policy would have on jobs and investment. Thankfully, Senators Hutchison and Cornyn have also voiced their support for a free internet.

“We cannot expect broadband providers to continue investing tens of billions of dollars a year into their networks when they don’t know how much ability they will have to manage and protect that investment. This uncertainty not only slows deployment and expansion of broadband, it costs jobs associated with laying the lines and connecting households,” wrote Cuellar and Green.

To help the overall American economy, the residents of the Rio Grande Valley, and the nation’s growing Latino population, Washington should set aside its quest for more power and let the broadband revolution continue to reach all Americans.