By Alejandro Roark
Alejandro Roark is the Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP). He has written the following reflection in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, which takes place from September 15, 2020 to October 15, 2020.
Latino technologists have a long history of leading through innovation. From med tech, to the invention of the first color TV to hydrogen peroxide propulsion jetpacks, Latino ingenuity has solved some of the world’s most important problems. During this observance of Hispanic Heritage Month, it is particularly poignant to think about these trailblazers, the benefits of technology they made possible and how they transformed American life.
Sadly, despite these contributions to early information and communications technology, Latinos, like most communities of color, have not fully benefited from our new digital economy. While it has opened new domains of opportunity for some, it has opened new domains of exclusion for others. As cities and local leaders look for solutions to close this digital divide, consider the following factors.
- Connectivity. According to the FCC, at least 18 million Americans lack access to broadband networks, a figure that includes at least one-fifth of rural Americans. Latinos are among the most disconnected populations.
- Affordability. In areas where broadband connectivity is available, many Latinos simply cannot pay the monthly subscription costs.
- Digital Literacy. The internet is not easy to navigate and makes Latino users vulnerable to discriminatory data practices and other online threats. Users cannot fully benefit from something they do not fully know how to use.
- Lack of Cultural Competency/Understanding. Technology solutions and products, particularly algorithms and data that underlie artificial intelligence, are rife with bias and discrimination, mirroring real world inequalities. Solutions should be tailored to meet the needs of communities with varying degrees of digital literacy.
Today, the COVID pandemic has exposed what many digital inclusion advocates have known for decades. The digital divide is no longer a problem. It is a crisis.
Latino families who have been disproportionately impacted by the digital divide now face compounding barriers that threaten to leave them further behind in education, economic advancement and health. For local leaders and advocates, this grim reality may result in low education attainment, a lower tax base, a less competitive/skilled workforce and an increase in health disparities. In our new pandemic reality, thousands of Americans work, worship, attend school, manage their health, vote and conduct other activities remotely.
Now more than ever, communities need high speed, resilient and affordable broadband networks. More importantly, they need leaders and programs that prioritize access and adoption, particularly among Latino, Black, Indigenous, People of Color.
Across the country, cities are rising to the task with innovative public-private partnerships that offer low-cost broadband subscription programs. This is apart from the low cost internet options already offered by the country’s largest carriers like Comcast’s Internet Essentials program or AT&T’s “Access” program. As a part of their Covid response many carriers have also provided free community-based public wi-fi to support students and distance learning.
If there is a silver lining in this crisis, it is the renewed focus by cities across the country to broaden internet access and take incremental steps towards closing the digital divide. It is not an exaggeration to say that this connectivity is vital for saving lives and preserving our new normal. Broadband access is necessary to survive.
Working Towards Digital Inclusion
At the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), we have long advocated to ensure that Latino communities nationwide can participate in economic, educational and social opportunities tied to the digital economy. We understand that digital inclusion is looking beyond internet access. It is a movement towards new information technologies developed by diverse innovators and thinkers that understand the Latino community and its culture. It is creative “ broadband connectivity” solutions that take into account affordability, hardware needs, and digital literacy to reach every home. It is about ensuring Latino families have the digital skills necessary to access all the benefits of the internet, safely and fairly. Digital inclusion ensures we thrive.
As Congress continues to formulate the next federal COVID relief package, HTTP will continue to be a voice for digital equity by centering the lives and experience of historically underserved communities with the goal of expanding digital opportunity to every home.
The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP) is the leading national Latino voice on telecommunications and technology policy. We are a nonpartisan partnership consisting of 16 national Latino organizations working together to ensure that the full array of technological and telecommunications advancements are available to all Latinos in the United States. HTTP members are nonprofit organizations that support the social, political, and economic advancement of over 50 million Americans of Hispanic/Latino descent by facilitating access to high quality education, economic opportunity and effective health care through the use of technology tools and resources. Learn more at www.httppolicy.org.