MIAMI — Keeping high-speed Internet access available and affordable to people of color in the U.S. is the goal of a national initiative that launches in Miami on May 7.
The Alliance for Digital Equality (ADE), a Georgia-based consumer advocacy group founded in February 2007, will release a study it commissioned titled “Affordable Broadband: Empowering Communities Across the Digital Divide” at the inaugural gathering of the group’s South Florida chapter at Miami’s Havana Club.
The study, by Jabari Simama, president of community development at Benedict College and the director of the college’s Center for Excellence in Community Development, notes significant gains by black and Hispanic Americans in closing the so-called digital divide.
More blacks and Hispanics have gained access to the Internet, Simama said, but the study calls those gains “fragile,” and the ADE hopes to build a nationwide consensus around expanding high-speed Internet access in minority communities.
According to the study, falling prices and physical expansion have made high-speed Internet access more available and more affordable to low-income Americans and minorities.
From 2005 to 2007, researchers said, the gap in home broadband access for black and white Americans narrowed from 17 percentage points to eight (48 percent of white households have high-speed access, versus 40 percent for blacks).
The study adds that, although an access gap between rich and poor remains, “even among households with annual incomes of less than $30,000, the number of consumers’ high-speed Internet connections has doubled from 15 percent to 30 percent in the last two years.”
And yet, the study warns that hanging onto those gains will require advocacy in Washington.
The non-partisan ADE plans to create “Digital Empowerment Councils” in cities across the U.S., including Miami, whose mission is to determine what policies at the federal level will best aid in keeping Internet access affordable in their communities.
The group plans to take their findings to Washington, in the form of recommendations to Congress, the Federal
Communications Commission, and the transition team for the next president of the United Sates. Councils have already been established in Charleston, S.C. Detroit, Mi. and Houston, Tx.
“Our mission is to work with Main Street America to ensure that the policies that come out of Washington don't penalize the
newest arrivals to the Internet,” said ADE's founder and chairman, Julius Hollis. “African-Americans and Hispanics were the last ones in the door, but we don't want these communities to be hurt by policies that could make broadband and wireless not affordable.”
Hollis said the initiative is important because “the digital revolution that we are in the embryonic stages of will have an enormous impact on how we live our lives.”
The study cites statistics stating that, “for every percentage point increase in broadband penetration, employment expands by almost 300,000 jobs.”
Hollis stressed broadband’s impact on high-tech developments like instant access to medical records, smart microchips for heart patients, and glucose meters for diabetes patients that can be monitored over a wireless connection by a patient's doctor.
Hollis also emphasized the need for advances in education and distance learning, and the need to prepare Americans for jobs of the high-tech age.
“It will impact how we relate to each other. It will temper our cultural differences and increase our knowledge base,” Hollis said.
Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce CEO Bill Diggs, an ADE board member who will also be a part of the Miami working group, agreed.
“I think it’s critically important because minorities and people who live in the urban core are not being served at the same level in terms of technology, which drives our economy,” Diggs said.
Hollis and Diggs are scheduled to participate in the May 7 event with Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, and others.
Hollis said the initiative already has support in Washington, including from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Majority Whip James Clyburn, who, according to the organization, have “cited broadband deployment as the Democratic Party's ‘New Direction’ for America.”
THE MORE YOU KNOW
The full study, “Affordable Broadband: Empowering Communities Across the Digital Divide,” can be accessed online at www.alliancefordigitalequality.org.