THE BLOG
10/04/2013 01:05 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Internet: Working Through Government Furlough

Washington remains frozen again this week -- the government is shut down over a number of issues. Not even the tragedy of a young, troubled mother's police chase and death could release the gridlock in the Capitol, and today all "non-essential" government workers -- about a third of the federal government -- remain home, and most federal government agencies are shut down. The political battle centers on spending, health care reform, and disagreements over several key issues. It's a really good thing the Internet is not a government program.

While today's conflict is about "Obamacare," it is really a symptom of deep disagreements over spending, and the real challenge from debt and deficit. Another, perhaps bigger, challenge is ahead around another extension of the debt ceiling. These crises are poignant reminders, not just of the differences of opinion among the parties about the role of government, but of the real challenge of spending to all of our policy priorities.

Thankfully, the Internet doesn't rely on government decision-makers.

As Richard Bennett says, while the government is shut down, "America's broadband networks are alive and kicking." Bennett wonders what the networks' status would be if "some of our public-ownership-loving friends had their way" adding that perhaps "messages to public safety and doctors would be allowed but cat videos would be verboten."

The Progressive Policy Institute's recent report, "U.S. Investment Heroes of 2013: The Companies Betting on America's Future," captures important data on the capital investments in the Internet infrastructure that is driving the digital economy. While federal government closure means billions of dollars lost from the economy with each passing day, the private sector continues to make big bets annually, resulting in wire line and wireless Internet infrastructure reaching more Americans.

In all, the telecommunication sector invested over $50 billion in the United States -- second only to the energy sector.

Our spending reality is important for the conversation about advancement of Latinos online. Advanced wireless networks have been one of the most important onramps for Latino participation in the Internet. And private-sector opportunities like Comcast's Internet Essentials program and the cable industry's nascient Connect2Compete offerings for low-income households with a child in school have made home broadband more accessible to millions of families.

The next step -- closing the techpreneurship gap, by bringing more entrepreneurs from Latino, African-American, and poor communities into the online economy as makers and creators -- will require smart public-private partnerships, and a retooling of education. By necessity, these goals will be accomplished without big, new spending by the federal government.

This reality must be a part of policy conversations and strategies for and about Latinos and the Internet. Closing the gaps in digital literacy and techpreneurship for Latinos, and others who are not fully participating in the Internet, will require more to be done, with less (at least less from government) and smarter leveraging of private sector resources. It also means careful crafting federal policies that continue to promote the private sector investment that is keeping the Internet working through the government's furlough.