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May 01

LISTA Guest Blogger Mario H. Lopez on Leveraging Mobile Broadband for Hispanic Communities

Headshot_marioNo one can deny the impact that Hispanics are having on America’s political, cultural, and economic spheres.  Across the nation, Hispanics are not just changing the landscape because of what they do, but rather how they do it.

With regard to broadband access – a crucial service that fuels American innovation, job creation, and educational opportunities – Hispanics are influencing American culture and markets through their choices in media and entertainment, not just in terms of content, but also in how that content is consumed.  And, data continues to show that Hispanics are closing the digital divide.

The modern Hispanic community is not only going mobile, but it’s outpacing the general population in doing so.  Survey data tells an incredible story of how far our community has come in a short time in adopting new technologies.  ComScore tells us that in two years (2010-2012), Hispanic adoption of smartphones increased from 43 percent to 57 percent whereas adoption of smartphones among the general population increased from 36 percent to 46 percent.  And as recent data from Pew shows,  76 percent of Hispanics are more likely to use their mobile devices to go online.

Mobile Internet connectivity gives Hispanics access to the civic, health, social, and entertainment content that they crave.  At a time when economic growth and employment remains sluggish, mobile Internet access allows Hispanics to search for work and take advantage of online training and education.  Mobile Internet also keeps Hispanic entrepreneurs and innovators connected to their customers.

For example, a recent report found that the importance of mobile Internet connectivity to Hispanics “cannot be overstated in the context of civic engagement” – particularly as it relates to immigration, education, and voter registration and mobilization.  Additionally, text messaging programs that provide young, at-risk women with information and reminders in English and Spanish throughout their pregnancies have helped to ensure that these women and their babies get the right amount of pre-natal care.

As the evidence of the importance of mobile Internet connectivity to the Hispanic community mounts, new data from the FCC shows two great things: consumer access to various providers is on the rise while prices are falling.  According to the FCC’s 16th wireless competition report, “mobile wireless prices declined overall in 2010 and 2011.”  Impressively, 91.6 percent of the population is covered by three or more providers and 82 percent by four or more – up from 81.7 percent and 67.8 percent from the 15th report.

However, a looming public policy challenge threatens to stall continued reliance on mobile Internet connectivity.  Spectrum is the lifeblood of the wireless industry and we need to get more of it into the hands of companies who are ready to deploy it so that consumers continue to experience the benefits and opportunities brought about by access to the mobile Internet.  The wireless industry currently has only about 16 percent of the spectrum that is suitable for mobile broadband – a problem that Washington needs to address aggressively.  Without more available spectrum in the long run, consumers could face network slowdowns, choppy service, and eventually degraded data and call quality.

Spectrum is a finite resource and the wireless industry can only do so much with the current available supply. Demand continues to rise at a tremendous rate year after year.  Much of the spectrum that is best suited to support mobile broadband is owned by TV broadcasters and government agencies.  The FCC is currently designing an incentive auction to repurpose TV broadcast spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use.  This is an important piece in the spectrum puzzle and should be realized as quickly as possible.  Another key piece is government spectrum.  Government agencies are sitting on a lot of spectrum that they are not using or not using efficiently—much of which can and could easily be repurposed for commercial mobile broadband use.

Opportunities available to Hispanics are on the rise, and our community is leveraging the economic and social benefits of mobile broadband to make the most of them.  Policymakers in Washington must recognize this growing trend and do everything in the power to support it.  In recent years the FCC has made some progress on the spectrum front.

It will be important for successors to outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Robert McDowell to speed up that progress and act upon the need to free up more spectrum for commercial use.  The use of broadband connectivity will continue to be a crucial factor in creating jobs and economic growth, spurring innovation, and generating educational opportunities for all Americans.

Mario H. Lopez is president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, a national advocacy organization that promotes free enterprise, limited government, and individual liberty.

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