In our increasingly complex and tech-dependent economy, even the most arcane government regulation can have a huge impact on average Americans. That is especially true for those with limited access to or experience with the new technologies they need to become fully integrated into the new economy.
Free data helps lower-income Americans bridge the digital divide that makes it harder for them to get ahead in our tech-dependent world. The federal government is supposed to make room for technological advancements that help Americans get ahead in life, not stand in their way.
- Jose Marquez
The latest attempt by activists to exert more control over internet traffic is a great example of how seemingly minor policies governing the high-tech sector can hurt Americans who are struggling to get ahead.
For a while now, wireless providers have been partnering with service providers (such as Netflix) to offer free data to wireless customers. Under these free data agreements, you can stream content from certain providers and it will not count against your data usage. It is “free data.”
Though these arrangements are obviously great for lower-income Americans, some of the very people who claim to champion the disadvantaged have come out against them. These activists are so absorbed in their own theories that they cannot see the harm their application would cause, especially to minorities and the poor.
For Hispanics and African-Americans, free data offers a great way to stay connected on a budget. The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites in the United States is 10 percent. For Hispanics it is 24 percent, for African-Americans 26 percent. Affording a mobile phone at all is a challenge, so any deal that allows users to stream content for free is most welcome.
To put this divide into numbers, the median household income for non-Hispanic whites in the United States is $60,256, according to U.S. Census data. For Hispanics, it falls to $42,491. For African-Americans it falls again to $35,398.
Frankly, the college-educated techies who advocate “net neutrality” so passionately can afford to live in their ivory tower bubble and indulge in fantasies about what a perfect internet would look like in a perfect universe where everything is free and everyone makes a ton of money.
The parents struggling to feed a family on $42,000 a year don’t have that luxury. For them, free data can make the difference between staying connected or being cut off from the digital world.
Free data can allow low-income families to actually save money by using their mobile devices for entertainment. The free streaming means they can cut cable and even avoid buying a TV set.
Like their higher-income counterparts, most low-income families already have a mobile phone for safety and accessibility reasons. Parents need to be reachable in case a prospective employer or the school nurse calls. While high-income families can afford whatever tech gadgets they want, low-income families have to make choices. With free data, the smart phone can become not an addition to other expensive tech devices, but a replacement for them.
Opposing free data because it does not conform to some ivory tower concept of “net neutrality” is elitist, condescending and harmful. Free data helps lower-income Americans bridge the digital divide that makes it harder for them to get ahead in our tech-dependent world. The federal government is supposed to make room for technological advancements that help Americans get ahead in life, not stand in their way.
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.