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What Would Cesar Chavez Think?

I keep telling myself that the claims of tech populists about net neutrality could not get wackier, but then they go and say something that makes you realize, “yes they can.” Case in point, Alex Nogales, of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, writing this week:

“We just won a historic victory, a critical step towards equality for Latinos in the digital age. Yet many American Latinos are unaware of this win and the tremendous potential it brings for us and our families to achieve full participation in the American Dream: better educations, better jobs, more financial stability and more political power. No, unfortunately, I am not talking about important and much needed reforms to education, immigration, criminal justice, and the other major issues before us today. But this victory has far reaching implications for the way we leverage our burgeoning political power in these kind of fights in the months and years to come. So what is this beautiful, mysterious victory? On February 26, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt “Network Neutrality” rules.”

If Cesar Chavez were alive, I wonder what he would say. How would a man who risked his life to ensure human and economic rights for millions of Hispanic farmworkers react when he sees the Hispanic rights movement now spending its valuable political capital on a “yuppie” fight that is nothing but symbolism. Let’s inject a note of reality. There has never been a case of an ISP blocking political content, from Hispanic organizations or any other organization, and there never will be, Title II or not. ISPs simply have no interest in doing so and if they did the public and political uproar would be deafening. As to the claim that without Title II there would be slow lanes for Hispanics and fast lanes for rich Anglos, again this is nonsense. If you want a fast lane from your ISP, you the customer — Anglo or Hispanic, rich or poor – can simply spend the extra few dollars a month to buy the faster tier residential broadband service.

Not too long ago the left spent their energies on “lunch bucket” issues that affected working class Americans – things like the right to unionize, the minimum wage, decent housing, progressive taxation, universal health care, and the like. Now, backed by charitable foundations that should know better, they spend increasing amounts of their time, money and energy on essentially symbolic, feel-good issues that do more for white suburban kids struggling to download illegal content without getting caught than for working class Americans struggling to stay afloat in increasingly difficult economic times.

If the tech populist left, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition, really cared about working class Americans and disadvantaged minorities they wouldn’t waste their time on these Yuppie, feel-good digital issues. Rather, they’d spend their time on a real tech progressive issue – closing the digital divide. In 2013, just 56 percent of Hispanic adults were broadband Internet users, compared to 74 percent of White non-Hispanics. Expanding programs like Lifeline and Linkup to broadband, creating a national computer and broadband subsidy for families with children eligible for free or reduced school lunch programs, and funding digital training programs for disadvantaged communities are the real issues advocacy organizations should be fighting for. Progress on these and related policy ideas would do orders of magnitude more for improving the economic and social conditions for Hispanic Americans that fighting the phony net neutrality war. It’s not too late to make this pivot. If organizations like the NHMC and others press Democrats in Congress to make a deal on net neutrality that ties regulating broadband under legislation, not Title II, with a robust digital divide agenda, Congress can pass a net neutrality bill that President Obama will sign.

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