Internet inequality produces economic inequality, which is why all Texans should be extremely worried about the lack of access for communities of color. The digital divide has made it increasingly difficult to participate in the rapidly evolving modern economy, particularly for Texas Latino communities.
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 and promote investment in high-speed, high-quality broadband infrastructure that reaches underserved 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 7 percent of employees in the computer and math industries — and the numbers are hardly getting better. Just about 3 percent of the workforces 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 sharply declined.
Sadly, this troubling national trend is plain to see in the Lone Star State. There are over 11 million Latinos living in Texas, but at Blizzard Entertainment – one of the state’s largest tech companies – minorities only make up 14 percent of the workforce. In the meantime, Texas ranks second in the nation for tech industry employment, and the industry accounts for $117.2 billion of the state’s economy.
Expanding high-speed broadband to reach Latinos in Texas is a must to address this gap, as schools, skills-training programs and job application services depend on internet connectivity. In Presidio County, where 82 percent of residents are Latino, few residents have access to quality broadband access.
Advocacy groups here and around the country are working overtime to bridge these divides. The National Association of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology, 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. These regulations have been shown to slow investment in high-speed broadband expansion where it is needed most. While supporters of the effort have argued 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 D.C. 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 Texas and throughout the U.S. will be prepared for the jobs of the future.