By Nicol Turner-Lee, PhD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute
The National Broadband Plan, recently released by the FCC, is poised to become one of the most influential documents of our era – a blueprint not only for a new birth of equality and civil rights in the Information Age, but also for a more dynamic, competitive and vibrant society for the rest of this century. For people of color, the poor, elderly, less educated and disenfranchised, the stakes could not be higher. Today’s stubbornly high unemployment rate provides only a glimpse of the wider problem, which is that our workforce is unprepared for rapid innovation in high-tech sectors that will dominate the global economy in the decades ahead. Young people who are showing promise as technology consumers are not being equipped to meet the global competitiveness challenge in science, technology, engineering and math. Poor children in the inner city and many rural areas are without the textbooks, tools and teachers to prepare them for success in the digital economy. These are key elements that the coming efforts to put the National Broadband Plan into action should address. This plan is an opportunity to provide the playbook to get diverse communities in the game, as well as to bridge gaps that go far beyond the oft-mentioned digital divide.
But the digital divide is certainly a good place to start. Nearly 100 million people are not connected to the Internet, a majority of whom are people of color. For many, cost remains the primary barrier to entry. Limited digital proficiency, especially among seniors and the less educated, is another critical reason why many adults choose not to get online. Yet there is so much that an Internet connection can do for communities of color right now. A recent study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that, when they do get online, lower-income African Americans and Latinos were three times more likely than whites to regularly use the Internet to search for jobs. These are people who need the Internet to support essential economic needs, yet have the least access to the resource that can make a powerful difference in their lives.
So, when it comes to both living and learning, broadband is the game changer. Let’s hope the policies that come out of the National Broadband Plan can help us achieve the lofty, but essential goals of universal broadband access, acceptance and adoption for every American. America’s most vulnerable are counting on the concrete actions that follow this blueprint to open a digital pathway to a brighter economic future in their communities, and to seed innovation that will lead to education and jobs for their children.
As we examine the National Broadband Plan, let’s applaud those policies that bring support to faster, cheaper and bolder broadband. Let’s also ensure that the recommendations leverage the vast potential of new communications technologies to expand opportunity and deliver the American Dream via broadband into every one of our communities.