OPINION

Opinion: Battle over Internet regulations is the civil rights struggle of the 21st century 

FILE - In this June 16, 2013 file photo, Internet users browse their Facebook website by the free wifi internet service in an underground station in Hong Kong. It’s never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

FILE - In this June 16, 2013 file photo, Internet users browse their Facebook website by the free wifi internet service in an underground station in Hong Kong. It’s never too early to start planning for your digital afterlife, the fate of your numerous online accounts once you shed this mortal coil. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)  (ap)

The battle over the nation’s high-speed Internet policy is a complicated one and, if carried out inadequately, could spur a series of unintentional outcomes. That conflict is being fought out at the Federal Communications Commission as it considers the Open Internet issue, sometimes referred to as Net Neutrality. Take it from an engineer with 20 plus years of experience in communications technology: the Open Internet per se is a non-issue.

If successful, Title II would reverse America's hugely successful policy of minimal regulation of the Internet and replace it with pervasive regulation designed for monopoly telephone companies back in 1934.

- Jose Marquez

An Open Internet simply means an Internet where all providers of legal content have non-discriminatory access to the privately owned high-speed networks that make up the Internet in America. We have had an Open Internet policy in place at the FCC since the Clinton administration and it's still working fine. But in 2010, the FCC attempted to codify a series of rules, which a Court earlier this year ruled were based on an incorrect legal foundation. Since then, the FCC proposed very similar rules, but under the Court-approved authority. So, what is the issue?  

If the Internet we all know and use works just fine and consumers can access the websites and content they want, why the concern? The danger is that proponents of utility-style regulations would use the non-issue of the Open Internet to rationalize a reclassification of Internet services under Title II of the Communications Act, and treat broadband as a utility — with all of the cumbersome rules, oversight and bureaucracy that would stifle innovation and harm our economy. 

If successful, Title II would reverse America's hugely successful policy of minimal regulation of the Internet and replace it with pervasive regulation designed for monopoly telephone companies back in 1934.

Throttling the progress of Internet technology with that kind of regulation would be an unconscionable disservice to all Americans. It would be a particularly mean blow to Latinos and other minorities who are still playing catch-up when it comes to utilizing the full benefits of high-speed Internet technology.

Recently, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council filed a petition with the FCC stating its belief in the importance of free and unfettered Internet access by minority communities. Signing on to the MMTC filing were 41 other civil rights and labor organizations including groups such as SER -  Jobs for Progress, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and the group I head, Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA).

We pointed out that restrictive utility-type regulation could easily suffocate the very innovation that has made high-speed Internet vital to minority communities. The FCC should have loftier goals than micromanaging an already successful industry. Their real targets should include assuring more and better connections for minorities, seniors, and low-income families still without high-speed Internet access. The commission’s final decision could well determine whether U.S. minority groups will be able to compete on a level playing field throughout the 21st century.                                         

That's why the battle over high-speed Internet regulations has been justifiably called the emerging civil rights struggle of the 21st century.  

Thanks to lightning-fast connections, America’s minority groups are better able to get access to good education, find more rewarding jobs, and enjoy greater involvement in their communities. Maintaining and expanding these sorts of advances is a continuous slog, but a necessary one. Because hard as it might be to imagine, our media obsessed society is only scratching the surface of what high-speed Internet services can deliver in the future.    

A continued Open Internet is essential to that future. Congress was looking to the future when it passed The Communications Act of 1996 that specified an Open Internet policy.  

Now, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should swing the attention of his fellow commissioners back to where it belongs: on ensuring widespread high-speed Internet access to low- and middle-income people, especially those in minority communities.

LISTA applauds the chairman’s efforts and we pledge him our support for the Court-mandated authority. Nobody wins if high-speed Internet services are weighted down with unnecessary regulation.

Jose A. Marquez is the National President, CEO, and Founder of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA), a nonprofit organization that advocates on state and federal issues related to the role of Latinos in the technology sector.

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