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Merger will provide better digital access

Much has been written about the high school dropout rate among teenagers in communities of color. Among Latinos it is a disheartening 50 percent. If we don’t fix this problem, this trend can quickly become an indicator of where this great country is headed in terms of our global competitiveness. Just last week, Allstate and National Journal released the ninth Heartland Monitor Poll — this one focused on communities of color. It not only underscores the census numbers that indicate historic Latino growth in many states, but importantly, it underscored the optimism for the future that Latinos feel here and now.

The poll found that minorities are considerably more likely than whites to believe they have more opportunity than their parents did. And looking into the future, Hispanics and African-Americans believe in a greater opportunity for the next generation than do whites and Asians. Interestingly as well, given the higher unemployment rates, the poll found that people of color are also more optimistic about the state of the American economy over the next 12 months.

Where does this leave us? We need to invest in that optimism to continue building a 21st century economy. But if half of our Hispanic students drop out, we will be ceding our global leadership on every single level in the next generation. Clearly this is not an option.

So yes, we obviously need to invest in our schools, but we also need to invest in what will help make our students better now and our businesses more competitive in the short term. Increasingly, it is as simple as high-speed Internet access and digital literacy. We need to provide the tools and instructions to use them. In this environment, Latinos and other minorities unfortunately tend to lag behind in digital adoption, access and literacy. How do we change that as quickly as we need to? One way is to look at the potential immediate gains in all three areas that Latinos are poised to make from the proposed ATT/T-Mobile merger.

Today’s mobile technology allows teachers to teach their children about the Seven Wonders of the World in a way never before experienced by kids who came before. Learning comes to life with the Internet; it allows kids to experience almost firsthand what the teacher is teaching. This added dimension in the classroom backed up by access at home or on a teenager’s smartphone will add to the sentiment that nothing is out of reach for this child.

The importance of high-speed Internet service can be seen everywhere these days. Not just in classrooms as mentioned, but also in the entrepreneurial world as small businesses continue to fuel the engine of growth and job creation. Any new business today needs instant access to customers and suppliers. President Obama has been a leader on this, calling for all Americans to have high-speed Internet access and setting a goal of covering 98 percent of Americans by 2016. The proposed ATT/T-Mobile transaction is purported to cover 97.3 percent of Americans, giving them the ability to access 4G LTE mobile technology. This is the fastest wireless Internet access available, and it’s the kind you need to take full advantage of new online opportunities in areas such as business and education. In pure numbers, the merger has the potential to bring high-speed service to an additional 55 million Americans.

That is why I urge federal officials to approve the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger. The company has committed to spend an additional $8 billion to expand next-generation wireless Internet service if the deal is approved. Wireless service offers the best, fastest hope to reach President Obama’s dream of universal Internet access. This is quite literally an investment in our future competitiveness. It means more students will graduate prepared for college. It means more businessmen and women will open more businesses in their communities which will in turn create jobs. And so forth.

From my experience as a mayor of a great American city, the best returns on investment are the ones we make in our children’s future now as well as the chances we take on the innovative spirit that exists in all communities across the country. This is simply the best way to build our country’s economy and importantly, to maintain our global competitiveness for the long haul.

By improving digital access, adoption and literacy through the proposed merger, we will help bring vital new education opportunities, job and economic growth to Hispanic communities and indeed to all Americans across the country.

Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio and U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, is executive chairman of CityView, which funds urban renewal and investment.