Friday, May 24, 2024

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Jason Llorenz “Broadband Internet: This Generation’s Civil Rights Sleeper?”

Latinovations would like to thank Jason Llorenz for his contribution to La Plaza

Washington is abuzz about broadband – or more importantly, Washington is buzzing about the way some communities will or won’t be able to access the information superhighway at broadband speeds. At stake: Just about everything. Turns out, our community’s economic standing, access to information and educational opportunities, and even health care are tied to the internet. So why aren’t we marching on Washington to demand “I want my broadband, and I want it now?” Let’s explore.

If you are like me, you see the internet as a wonderment that makes life easier, more interesting and so much more connected. Facebook turns our friends into personal paparazzi. We shop online and learn online (bet you or your kids use Wikipedia more than Britannica). We meet online and become married through those digital connections (I hear 1 of every 8 who married last year met ONLINE). America and the world lives and does business online – and we rely on the immediate connection to documents, video, images, content, communications and cool stuff every day to do what we do. Broadband internet (which is just a clunky way of describing high-speed, high-quality internet connections serving millions of computers across the country) makes all this internet traffic and real-time video possible. And the internet was barely available when I entered college. So where is the civil rights issue?

The key word is traffic. The internet is really a series of connections making up a huge “pipeline.” And that pipeline can only handle so much streaming video, searches, PDFs and application downloads at any given time, while making your chat with your uncle in the Valley and the folks monitoring your uncle Lazo’s heart via the internet in Mt. Vernon get their connections seamlessly.

Our definition of “important traffic” is key. If the pipeline is only so big, and something has to go through first, and something else has to wait, then lets make sure Uncle Lazo’s heart monitor gets priority right? But what about your Aunt Irma in Richmond, who, at 57 years old, is going back to school online, studying at night after her 10 hour shift and putting her daughter to bed? Should her internet connection be prioritized? Will she be able to access materials and class modules at high speeds? That depends on lots of stuff.

Remember, the internet is an economic engine. Like all infrastructure, high-speed internet powers the economy and sparks innovation. The small, home-based business in Richmond that Irma may one day establish, can sell online, and communicate like a million-dollar business via the network. But not if the broadband network doesn’t reach her.

To ensure everyone has good service, the internet “pipe” needs to get bigger.  As demand increases for high speed internet, then the connections can continue to be enhanced and we all can maintain our quality of internet life. When families adopt high-speed internet (yes, uncle Lazo must let go of the dial up), they commit to taking part in modern online life and helping their kids develop skills needed to participate in tomorrow’s economy. This part is easy…kinda.

Now here is the more complex part. The FCC is in the process of developing new rules governing the management of the internet. A part of that rule development, “Net Neutrality” is a set of rules with a sexy title that may pose some dangers to communities. Net neutrality may include provisions that stop network managers from exercising reasonable management over their networks to ensure that everyone (Irma; the folks monitoring Uncle Lazo’s heart and the multi-billion dollar application makers) get a high-quality internet experience.

The rules may also cause Irma’s price to be artificially high. Your aunt Irma and other regular consumers pay the sometimes-high price of accessing high speed internet, while the really high-capacity corporate users don’t have to participate in their fair share of the cost of managing, upgrading and maintaining the internet network that underlies their business. We may be trading access to lots of free stuff for higher priced internet, subsidizing very wealthy online corporate businesses. See the fairness issue?

If you are like me, you love the internet and the way of life that has emerged since the late 90s (I am about to update my FB profile before taking a look at Rolando’s latest on We want the internet to be a robust place where we all can learn and communicate.  But we also know that it takes financial investment to make all of this happen – the internet pipeline, just like the free content that we access, must be paid for by someone. Regular consumers struggling to make ends meet should not be paying to subsidize the wealthiest of internet businesses. And the rules that govern the internet also must not stifle competition or content development. There must be a middle ground available.

If we care about the economic and social prosperity of communities outside of the beltway, where the promise of economic opportunity doesn’t always reach, we must also care about making the internet available to everyone. We all must engage in the debate on this issue. While conversations about networks and information packet speeds aren’t nearly as exciting as the more notorious issues we hear about every day, broadband may very well be one of the great issues of our time.

The author, Jason Llorenz, Esq. is an attorney and public affairs specialist. He serves as senior policy advisor to the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, a nonpartisan, 501(C)(3) organization based in Washington, DC, which serves the interests of over 300 Hispanic state legislators across the country. The NHCSL’s mission is to develop policies that enhance quality of life for Latinos and America. To contact Mr. Llorenz, please access the following link.


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