More Black Americans need to get “the hook-up.” More of us have to get with the “modernized infrastructure” priorities President Obama classifies as “a national broadband plan” and “new healthcare information technology.” These industries are bellwethers for America’s long-term economic stability and prosperity. Being Internet-enabled provides life-changing benefits. There’s a nationwide push to get the nation connected to affordable high-speed Internet. These new technologies are increasingly allowing Americans of all backgrounds, and walks of life, to access the Internet at a fixed location, or on the go, and for machines to communicate with one another with no human intervention. High-tech as it may sound; broadband is high-speed Internet and data access and can be simply defined as a fast connection to the Internet that is always on.
More Blacks have to get hooked into wireless broadband. Benjamin Hooks, former NAACP head and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member says, “For underprivileged communities, high-speed Internet service is critical for their advancement: socially and economically.” Wireless broadband is transforming education, healthcare, energy conservation, social services, civic involvement and entertainment; and bring abundant benefits to consumers and businesses alike. Hooks says America “has spent over $100 billion to deploy high-speed systems” but, “wireless broadband can only reach its full potential where there is access for all to adequate and appropriate radio frequency spectrum.”
The FCC is in the process of releasing a broad-reaching broadband plan. Across America Blacks are on the “low side” of the digital divide. Households with Internet access have greater access to commerce, education, health care, entertainment and communication. Tech-connected families receive more health and life-style information. Individuals with Internet access have more opportunities to work from home. Small business owners with Internet access are better able to reach and expand their customer base. Internet access increases awareness and access to government services.
Questions abound as to whether broadband services are being deployed in ways that allow all Americans to benefit. Structural poverty, segregation, unequal educational opportunities and discrimination in financial markets can all have a profound effect on access to broadband adoption rates. More emphasis and attention are needed toward creating a national broadband plan that recognizes the different social and demographic segments, such as race and ethnicity, educational attainment, income, and geography.
Do different population segments use different access networks (wire line versus wireless) and devices differently? An April 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows 63 percent of adult Americans have broadband internet connections at home. Forty percent of African American homes have broadband. A new study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that 94 percent of African Americans who have college degrees are now online. And, those college-educated minorities who make over $50,000 are adopting broadband at the fastest rate of any group in the country. The Joint Center’s report also noted lagging broadband adoption for lower-income, older and less educated Blacks and Hispanics. Internet access is important to Blacks. The Joint Center report shows that low-income people, in particular, are heavily reliant on public institutions such as libraries, schools, and community centers to get access to the Internet. While the report said that broadband access has helped usher in social and economic gains for many minorities, it shares that “those Americans who stand to gain the most from the Internet are unable to use it to break the cycles of social isolation, poverty, and illiteracy.” The digital divide should continue to be a key issue in discussions with policymakers as they make billions of dollars of investments in broadband improvements.
A private-sector company that should be of particular note is Cricket Communications. Cricket has entered the market placing specific emphasis on reaching Blacks and Hispanics. The company spent $1 billion three years ago buying wireless transmission spectrum from the FCC that covers Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and has been building its network in these cities since. Of wireless companies Cricket has had the most visible corporate presence in broadband usage and literacy programs among urban and African Americans.