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Last week, I had the pleasure to be at the Hispanicize 2012 Conference in Miami, Florida. It was one of the most engaging conferences that I attended in over 4 yrs. Bloggers and twitter experts from across the nation came together to discuss best practices and develop strategies for more wireless apps for Latinos, i.e. elWiri App which finds delicious LATINO food and cultural events through your smart phone anywhere in the world.  It is clear that most of us use cellphones and smartphones, devices which enhance our personal lives and help us make the way we do business more efficient and profitable and it is even clearer that Latinos are over indexing when it comes to wireless technology.  What has not been so clear is what makes all this possible.   We all want and have come to expect mobile access anytime, anywhere. Unfortunately, as phones have gotten “smarter,” they have also gotten greedier—for data. Smart phones require a huge amount of data to perform many of the functions that we have come to rely upon—mapping routes, streaming music, sending videos etc.

Spectrum is what makes all this possible.  Spectrum is the finite airwaves over which wireless communications move.  And it is becoming too crowded.  We see this evidenced by more dropped calls, slower Internet connection speeds and frequent service interruptions.  This can be a mere inconvenience if you are calling your friend or want to browse a website, but a real problem exists if you are a doctor or patient waiting to see an X-ray, or look at the results of an emergency biopsy so a prognosis or even a consultation can be made. 

So you ask yourself why should we care about this?  Because this poses a potential problem: increased data demands are straining the nation’s supply of spectrum. Without adequate wireless spectrum, our cellphones and smartphones will not work as quickly and efficiently as they should, and if we don’t fix this soon, they will work not at all. 

And unfortunately, Latinos may bear the brunt of this impending spectrum crunch. 

Latinos used to rely much more on wired networks at our homes; but that is not the case anymore.  Trends have been changing fast and now, Hispanics lead the way in cell phone ownership and are far more likely to own smartphones than any other segment of the American population. Almost half of Hispanics (45%) own smartphones according to the Nielson Group.  Compare that to 33% of African Americans and 27% of white Americans. We are moving quickly and we are learning and adopting new technologies faster than just about any other group in America.  By leading the charge though, Latinos have positioned themselves to be disproportionately affected by the increasing scarcity of critical Internet and communications resources

And we use our smartphones for more than just video streaming, social media connections and making restaurant reservations.  Mobile broadband allows us to experience a plethora of previously unavailable mobile opportunities for education, job training, healthcare, and to get more involved in our communities and in civic life, just to name a few examples. 

Access to this technology greatly benefits Latinos across the country, and our access must not slow down.  On the contrary, we need solutions that will ensure the appetite of our smartphones can be satiated at every turn.  It is not only empowering, it can be life-saving. 

With non-profit organizations like Connect to Compete providing low-cost broadband Internet service, Latinos can use telemedicine applications which provide everything from remote medical monitoring of diabetes and heart disease to remote, virtual doctor visits via teleconferencing for distant or immobile patients. These programs also offer digital literacy opportunities to Latinos and other underserved populations throughout the United States.

With all of these amazing opportunities at our fingertips, we cannot stand idly by while this wireless infrastructure is strained.  The Federal Government and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must do everything possible to ensure that wireless providers are able to meet consumer demand for wireless Internet access. This means finding and reallocating existing spectrum resources so that broadband providers can acquire the spectrum necessary to expand their networks to ensure that wireless devices function as designed.

 Jose A. Marquez-Leon is the National President, CEO, and Founder of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA). In this role he serves as lead advocate on state and federal issues related to the role of Latinos in the technology sector.  He is also charged with coordinating organization-wide strategic planning for LISTA initiatives and is executive director of fifteen LISTA Tech Councils nationwide. 

Follow me on Twitter @lista1 or visit our blog www.techLatino.org or Next Emerging Technology Leadership Summit  Conference www.techlatino247.org