State Issues

Why so few Latinos in Silicon Valley? Because our Valley lacks connections

Students from Fresno and Madera check out a wifi camera and mobile devices during National Technology Day in Fresno.
Students from Fresno and Madera check out a wifi camera and mobile devices during National Technology Day in Fresno. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

Internet inequality produces economic inequality, which is why Central California residents should be worried about the lack of access for communities of color.

For 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.

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 in California and across the United States. Despite the fact Latinos make up almost 17 percent of all U.S. workers, they account for less than 7 percent of employees in 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 from 2007 to 2015 the number of Latinos employed by Silicon Valley tech companies has sharply declined.

This is despite the fact that in 2017 more than 43,000 tech jobs were added, contributing more than $380 billion to the state’s economy.

Expanding high-speed broadband to reach the over 3 million Latinos living in California – the state’s largest minority group – is a must to increase Latino representation in the tech industry. This is particularly true for the San Joaquin Valley, where 40 percent of the population is Latino and where studies show there are several areas that lack quality access to the internet.

Expanding broadband will support the San Joaquin Valley’s great farming industry. By improving internet access, farmers will not just become more efficient in their operations, but they will save money by being able to monitor how much water their crops need and are receiving.

Advocacy groups here and around the country are trying 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 needed 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. They have advanced a bill that would impose Depression-era regulations on the internet, regulations shown to slow investment in high-speed broadband expansion where it is needed most. While supporters say it is necessary to promote net neutrality – a critical goal we can all agree on – this would achieve nothing more than increased net inequality.

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 to expand high-speed broadband to communities across the country. This can enable more education programs to be implemented so minority communities in Central California 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 @TechLatino