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Jul 16

LISTA Guest Blogger Maria Cardona: “Latino Voices Necessary in Mobile Internet Debates”

There has been a lot of talk about how Latinos need to come out and vote to have their voices heard.

But what we haven’t heard enough of is the importance of Latinos becoming active participants in shaping the policies of the technology industry.

I have been interested and involved in helping to ensure Latinos are better versed in telecom and technology issues since I worked for the late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown. He understood minorities had a big stake in our digital future. His work with one of the department’s agencies, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, underscored the early benefits of the internet to minority communities.

Currently, I work with Dewey Square, a public affairs firm that has advocated for telecom policies that will make broadband access more accessible and universal.

Now, a report underscores why this is so important.

Hispanic Broadband Access: Making the Most of the Mobile, Connected Future” outlines research that shows Hispanics are adopting mobile devices at a higher rate than white Americans, and they disproportionately rely on wireless to access job searches, education, health care and government resources.

In 2010, 76% of Hispanics reported using cell phones, with three out of four accessing mobile services other than telephone calls.

In February, there were nearly 17 million unique visits by Hispanics on Facebook, and Twitter use rose by 32%. Hispanics are 17% more likely to keep a personal blog than the general population.

But it is not just social media and blogging. The Hispanic community actually leads in using Internet access to advance their education and economic prospects.

A recent Nevada study found that 57% of Hispanics conduct online job searches, compared to the average Nevadan at 45%. And 49% of Hispanics surveyed used their mobile devices to take online classes or do school work, slightly higher than the average in the area: 44%.

We need to raise our voices on these issues so we can be the architects of our digital future. Why leave it to others when we can – and should – have a say in the telecom policies our elected leaders and government agencies are formulating?

The report lays clear the stakes to the Hispanic community of the ongoing effort to press the U.S. government to make more spectrum – the airwaves on which all digital information is carried to and from our wireless computers and mobile devices – available to meet fast-rising demand for wireless services.

Think about it this way: With wireless users increasingly familiar – and frustrated – waiting for their mobile devices to load, it’s important to remember that the iPhone was released only five years ago.

In that short time, mobile data usage has spiked off the charts, and there are now more than 330 million wireless subscriptions, more people than live in the United States.

At the same time, while mobile demand and traffic have exploded, there has been little change in the amount of wireless airwaves available to make all of these connections possible.

In fact, the Federal Communications Commission has warned that wireless demand could outstrip existing network capacity as early as 2013.
If allowed, such a ‘spectrum crunch’ would disproportionately harm the mobile-centric Hispanic population.

Latinos will disproportionately feel the burden with more dropped calls, failed applications, longer wait times to load and higher prices because we use these devices more and at higher rates than other Americans.

But if we don’t claim a stake in the technology debate, these numbers and stats will not help us build a digital world where there is 100% broadband access and adoption across all racial and economic lines, and where the digital divide is a thing of the past.

Will our leaders move past talk to concrete actions that make more spectrum available to expand the wireless web?

This can make the difference between a digital future Latinos will lead or one where the divide gets bigger and our community loses.

Latinos can and should help spur this on by using the exact tools we are using in greater numbers to chime in to our elected leaders the urgency of getting this done now.

Elections and voting booths are not the only place where Latino voices should be saying Si, se puede.

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