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TELECOMMUNICATIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND BROADBAND POLICY: WHERE ARE THE LATINO INTERESTS?

Posted by Jason Llorenz, Esq. on 04/25/2011 @ 11:15 AM

TELECOMMUNICATIONS, TECHNOLOGY AND BROADBAND POLICY: WHERE ARE THE LATINO INTERESTS?

For years, LULAC has lead the way in a coalition of national Latino-serving organizations who advocate for Hispanic communities in the little-understood areas of telecommunications, technology and broadband access. This advocacy has influenced the national policy conversation to the benefit of millions of Americans. The issues of today include a vast array of policy options and intricate legal and regulatory matters. In a policy community that expects these community institutions to focus on more easily understood areas, such as health, immigration and economic development, the question is often asked, what is the Latino interest in telecommunications and broadband technology?

The interest is simple, but not small – jobs, economic development, learning, and inclusion in American life are all connected to these policies. There is no American issue without a context in broadband Internet access or communication. And the policy debates had in Washington are of key importance to ensuring Latinos have an opportunity to adopt the technologies and use them for the community’s advancement. The jobs of the future will be more technical and will leverage technology. The most highly paid jobs, in fact, will continue to be in the technology sector, despite economic recessions. There is no more important time to ensure that all Latinos are connected to the Internet and are building digital skills.

In such a rapidly evolving, innovative space, regulations are very important. Poorly devised regulations can enforce a ceiling on an industry’s activities when the marketplace may demand more than a new set of rules would. Or, new rules that make investment harder to secure, may make it harder or slower for a company to build out new or novel services that benefit consumers. A poor understanding of the diverse Latino community, from language to training and consumer choices, may result in rules that benefit some, and hurt the most vulnerable.

And so, the Latino interest in arcane rules and regulations that are outside of the more easily recognized “Latino” issues is real, and we all must pay more attention. Below is a short, abbreviated menu of some of the issues facing us right now:

Spectrum – Spectrum allows our mobile phones and devices to function over the airwaves. With all of us using more spectrum with the advent of the iPhone and droid (5000% more on some networks in just a matter of years), the airwaves are getting crowded, resulting in dropped calls and slow services. One option is for prices to be raised in order to drive usage down – an option that would be a negative for all. The FCC and Congress are moving to take action to make more spectrum available to wireless providers in order to keep prices low and service quality high. Note: Latinos rely on their mobile devices for every service, from email to web access, to texts, than any other American community.

Universal Service Fund (USF) – Every phone user pays into the Universal Service Fund, which provides billions of dollars to support new telephone build out in rural and hard to reach communities, like Puerto Rico, and also provides phone access to low-income individuals through the Lifeline program. The program is operating on old rules that were devised before the Internet. Reform of USF must include making funds available to subsidize broadband. Note: While Latinos lead the way in adopting wireless broadband, they trail far behind in adopting home broadband. Cost and familiarity/value are two often-cited reasons for this lag in adoption. USF reform offers an opportunity to address this, and help to close the digital divide.

Inter-carrier compensation (ICC) – ICC is an arcane group of rules that have spawned hundred million dollar profits out of attractive “free” telecom services. Free conference call lines, for example, pull phone traffic into businesses based in rural states by incentivizing consumers to use their “free” services, and then leverage the rules to be paid millions of dollars from phone carriers for doing so. This literally pulls millions of dollars away from investment in new infrastructure and services. The rules were created to compensate small, rural phone carriers for carrying transfer traffic, never to generate business fro pulling calls into a state.
The issues in the telecommunications and technology space – and the overall policy environment influencing American innovation are Latino issues. Like banking issues, pension management, energy and budget, our national organizations must continue to have a voice on the matters that will be at the center of American prosperity. Because of the advocacy of LULAC, and other members of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) policymakers are more aware of the unique issues facing Latinos in the 21st Century.

Jason Llorenz, Esq. is Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) a coalition of more than 20 national Hispanic-serving organizations working to realize access to technology for underserved and unserved communities.

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