The last two years has demonstrated a vital need to close the digital divide. New York stands at a crossroads to bridge this divide with a historic opportunity to issue grants to aid in the buildout of broadband networks. In order to effectively and efficiently serve the needs of all communities, all technology options—including wireless—need to be on the table.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes billions of dollars for investment into broadband, with access to at least $100 million in grants to provide broadband to New York communities who still remain unconnected. As New York lawmakers consider best how to craft grant language around the distribution of these funds, three things must be kept in mind: Does the technology meet the needs of the community, how quickly can it be deployed, and is it cost-effective, fast and reliable?

 In April 2020, a survey by SOMOS found that nearly 40% of Latinos did not have broadband internet access at home. Different communities have different circumstances, and one thing that is clear is that Latinos over-index in their use of wireless. Many communities still lack home broadband, but thankfully new technologies have been developed in this space to help our communities obtain broadband on their own terms.

Time to market is another factor critical to IIJA grant allocations. The more quickly we can deploy, the quicker the connectivity needs of a community are met – and wireless solutions are a great option. For example, fixed 5G can be deployed faster than having to dig up our communities and then put wiring into the ground where the necessary infrastructure doesn’t already exist. This technology uses wireless links between fixed points—a nearby tower and an antenna on a person’s home—to provide connections wirelessly instead of through a wired cable connection. Fixed 5G is a two-for-one win: a fixed connection for your home and enhanced coverage for your mobile device.

Finally, a technology neutral approach and one that considers cost burdens, speed and reliability, is the only way to ensure the needs of a community are met. When it comes to deploying broadband in the hardest-to-reach communities there is not a one-size-fits all solution. A mandate on technologies that does not account for everyone’s circumstances can prevent our goal of getting everyone connected. And once connected, it needs to be affordable. The cost of broadband wireless solutions have significantly decreased over the last two decades, making it a commonsense option for inclusion in any grants.

TechLatino (www.techlatino.org) is proud to have founded our first chapter in the state of New York. Fast forward to now and our oldest chapter is joined by 8,000 chapter members with reach in every U.S. state with a sizable Latino community. Latinos in New York City alone are set to outpace non-Hispanics as the largest sub-group. Our needs will certainly be varied and ever-changing, given that we are dispersed across both rural and urban settings, vastly different areas both of which can be more effectively served by 5G broadband.

Legislators must consider the needs of a community for broadband access before crafting grant language that will not truly meet people where they already are. The time is now to solve the digital divide.

by Jose Marqiez, CEO & Founder of TechLatino: Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association. and New York LISTA Chapter President Nii Akwei Lomotey

About Techlatino: The National Association of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology:

Through its network of nearly 15 affiliated community-based councils, association and partnerships with non-profit organizations, LISTA advocates on behalf of the millions of Latinos in 50 states including New York and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, South America and Spain. To achieve its mission, LISTA conducts workshops and seminars, national business series, research, policy analysis, and technology awareness programs in order to provide a Latino perspective in many key areas in technology — development of the 21st century workforce, Coding, health information technology, STEAM education, employment/economic status, business development and broadband . In addition, it provides workshops and training to technology professionals and students in health it, big data and other technology opportunities for individuals small businesses and families. Helping Close the digital divide and giving opportunity to all.