By Jose A. Marquez-Leon
Internet inequality produces economic inequality, which is why all residents of California should be extremely worried about the lack of access for communities of color. For California’s Latino communities in particular, the digital divide has made it increasingly difficult to participate in the rapidly evolving modern economy. Yet certain lawmakers in Congress are supporting misguided and draconian regulations that would make the problem even worse by pumping the brakes on broadband expansion.
Instead, Congress must develop 21st century policies that protect an open Internet for all Americans for generations to come and promote investment in high-speed, high-quality broadband infrastructure that reaches under-served communities.
The lack of opportunity that has resulted from inadequate broadband access has far-reaching consequences for Latino communities across the United States. Despite the fact that Latinos make up almost 17 percent of all U.S. workers, they account for less than seven percent of employees in the computer and math industries — and the numbers are hardly getting better.
Sadly, this troubling national trend is plain to see in the Golden State. Latinos represent almost 40 percent of the population in California, which makes them the largest minority group, but they are underrepresented at some of the biggest tech companies. Just about three percent of the workforce at Facebook, Amazon and Google are Hispanic, and studies have shown that between 2007 and 2015 the number of Latinos employed by Silicon Valley tech companies has sharply declined.
Meanwhile, as Latinos lack access to the Internet, the technology industry is booming. In 2017, over forty-three thousand tech jobs were added in Silicon Valley, which contributes more than $380 billion to the state’s economy.
Expanding high-speed broadband to reach the over 15 million Latinos living in California is a must to address this gap, as schools, skills-training programs and job application services depend on Internet connectivity. In Inyo County, where over 20 percent of the population is Latino, over 20 percent of its residents lack adequate access to broadband.
Advocacy groups here and around the country are working overtime to bridge these divides. The Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association, which I represent, launched a program called Techno Centro, which aims to provide Latinos the tools they need to enter the tech workforce and thrive. But their critical work can only go so far in the absence of common-sense action from Congress.
Unfortunately, some Congressional members are taking us in the wrong direction by advancing a bill that would impose Depression-era regulations on the Internet that have been shown to slow investment in high-speed broadband expansion where it is needed most. While supporters of the effort have said it is necessary to promote net neutrality — a critical goal we can all agree on — this would achieve nothing more than increased net inequality.
Instead, it is time for lawmakers in Washington to step up to the challenge of solidifying a free and open Internet for all by passing comprehensive legislation that would expand high-speed broadband to communities across the country that continue to lack access. This can enable more education programs to be implemented so minority communities here in California and throughout the United States will be prepared for the jobs of the future.
Jose A. Marquez-Leon is the national president, CEO, and founder of the Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association.