al_dotson_web.jpgAmericans continue to seek a full economic recovery. Since the economic wound of the recession that began in 2007, unemployment has been well above normal levels.

No group has been immune to the pain of the recession; however, the downturn has been particularly hard on African Americans. The Labor Department puts overall unemployment at about nine percent now but African-American unemployment is at more than 16 percent. In vulnerable economic times, we need to ensure that our nation’s underserved communities, regardless of ethnicity, are able to thrive. The alternative is permanent second-class citizenship but in 400 years we’ve come too far for that.  No party, no administration should tolerate that.

Thriving communities are built on a foundation of socioeconomic empowerment. Thus, America’s No. 1 priority must remain job creation.  And, in the long term, we need to deploy our technological and financial assets to build education and innovation if America is to retain its global competitiveness.

The unemployment numbers have shown very modest progress. Yet large-scale job creation has been hard to come by. Our elected leaders have tried several solutions with some success. Notwithstanding debates to the contrary, government has and must play an essential role in promoting our general welfare, including economic opportunity.

Even in the economic downturn, there have been several bright spots: growing industries that have shown the promise of large-scale job creation. The wireless communication sector is growing rapidly, fueled by smartphones and the mobile Internet.

Tackling the digital divide between those who have full access to high-speed Internet and those who do not has not been easy. Those on the wrong side of the digital divide have for many years been unable to capitalize on the educational, economic and social benefits that come through broadband adoption and access to the digital age. African Americans are near the bottom of groups that actively use or subscribe to broadband service at home but we have made progress closing the gap through mobile broadband.

According to Pew Research Center, black Americans are most likely to use cellphones to access the Internet and millions of African Americans rely on mobile devices as their only way to participate in the digital age.

On Aug. 31, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile and, as a result, take off the table nearly 100,000 new jobs and an $8 billion investment in new communication infrastructure.

DOJ’s lawsuit to block the proposed merger, if upheld, would unfortunately slow private sector investment in broadband and job growth. America has been an innovative leader in technology, yet our nation lags behind in broadband use and speed. Broadband has been widely acknowledged as being essential to the longterm competitiveness of our nation and has been a major focal point of the Obama administration.

Through the proposed merger, AT&T states, it will create a nationwide high-speed (4G) network that covers 97 percent of America, with 55 million more people gaining access to high-speed broadband. As President Barack Obama recognized in his Jan. 25, 2011, State of the Union Address, a nationwide high-speed broadband network will greatly enhance education, improve educational attainment and provide a platform for future innovation.

That is why it is vital that DOJ and AT&T quickly reach a settlement to resolve outstanding concerns that Justice raised in its lawsuit. The AT&T and T-Mobile merger is essential to promoting socio-economic empowerment for the underserved, assisting in our economic recovery, and enhancing the competiveness of our nation.

Al Dotson is chairman of the board of 100 Black Men of America and  a partner and practice group leader in the areas of land use, zoning and government relations for Bilzin Sumberg in Miami. He handles federal and local government procurement contracts and compliance.

Photo: Al Dotson