Credit: George Danby

Internet inequality produces economic inequality, which is why all Maine residents should be extremely worried about the lack of access for communities of color. For Maine’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 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 has sharply declined.

This troubling national trend is plain to see in the Pine Tree State. There are more than 21,000 Latinos living in Maine, but only 10 percent of Latino-owned businesses are in the technical service industry. In the meantime, the industry brings in $3 billion to Maine’s economy and offers wages $30,000 above the average annual salary.

Expanding high-speed broadband to reach Latinos living in Maine is a must to address this gap, as schools, skills-training programs and job application services depend on internet connectivity. In Washington County, where a large number of Latinos live, close to 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 National Association of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology, for example, 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 under the Congressional Review Act, which would bring back 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 by slowing broadband expansion.

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 in Maine and throughout the U.S. will be prepared for the jobs of the future.

Jose A. Marquez-Leon is the national president, CEO and founder of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association.

Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.