Recently in the state capitol, some lawmakers have been flirting with the latest fad idea about regulating the Internet -- the so-called "Net neutrality" rules. The corporate giants pushing the proposal, Internet companies like Google and eBay, say that the rules are needed to prevent broadband providers from discriminating against certain web sites.
Certainly, a "free" and "open" Internet is a concept that everyone supports. But most lawmakers have grown cold to the proposed Net neutrality regulations. Why? The most glaring problem is that the proposed regulations seek to cure a problem that doesn't exist. Worse, they could reverse competitive pressure on broadband prices that has enabled Latinos and communities of color to connect to the Internet.
For years, Google and others have warned that broadband companies would find ways to cloister the Internet and block access to sites and services the company somehow does not like. But this Internet apocalypse has not come to pass, and it's unlikely it ever will given the increased competition for broadband consumers. What is more, the notion that we should start imposing regulations to cure speculative problems is a dubious one, particularly when there are many likely adverse unintended consequences.
The Internet today faces two main challenges -- expanding broadband capacity and closing the digital divide -- and Net neutrality could undermine our capacity to address both.
Broadband capacity is going to have to expand by a factor of five-fold in order to meet consumer demand for bandwidth-intensive applications like the latest video services. Ironically, Net neutrality regulations would give the large Internet companies that run these applications new legal tools to shield themselves from having to pay for the expansion of broadband capacity.
If costs of new network capacity are shifted to consumers as they inevitably would be, the digital divide is likely to explode. Only 29 percent of Latino adults subscribe to broadband at home, compared to 43 percent of white Americans. Finally, the overregulation of Internet commerce could stifle rather than facilitate entrepreneurism. New York's power grids can, with some significant investments, be turned into another robust broadband transmission pipe, reaching millions instantly with existing infrastructure. But if a video content company like NetFlix wanted to partner with a utility company to generate those investments, Net neutrality rules could give any other video provider the right to veto the partnership under the theory that the partnership could disfavor their own video content.
I fully subscribe to an open Internet, but competition has proven the best antidote for bad behavior by broadband companies, and the Net neutrality campaign may be a case where the cure is far worse than the poison.
Robert de Posada is president of the Latino Coalition, a non-profit, non-partisan organization addressing policy issues affecting Hispanics in the United States.