July 20, 2010, was a day that will be remembered in the history of broadband as the day multicultural entrepreneurs came together to speak in one voice for the cause of digital inclusion. On that day, a new organization, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs (NAMDE), was formed. NAMDE is a coalition focused on bringing together multicultural digital entrepreneurs who collaborate to break down the walls that keep minorities from harnessing the full power of the Internet.
Broadband has profound economic impacts on minority users. As a key platform for minority entrepreneurs and small business owners, this technology lowers and, in many cases, eliminates barriers that have traditionally discouraged and frustrated a significant number of women- and minority-owned firms from entering the marketplace. For many multicultural entrepreneurs, broadband solves the access to capital dilemma by enabling minority-owned firms to reach millions of customers at a low cost. It is a great equalizer.
A team established NAMDE, spearheaded by two visionaries – York Eggleston and Jeneba Ghatt – both of whom recently spoke with BBSJ about their powerful new organization. Ghatt is a lawyer by training and works on behalf of women- and minority-owned business and technology companies via her firm, The Ghatt Law Group, the nation’s first communications law firm owned by a woman or minority. Ghatt writes about the importance of technology to minorities on her blog Jeneba Speaks.
Eggleston is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Semantic Labs, a software development firm. Eggleston is a new media veteran who sits on the board of several new media and Internet technology companies and is regarded as a rising technology visionary. He has developed and co-developed several media and technology businesses over the last ten years.
Together, Ghatt and Eggleston bring a wealth of experience to NAMDE, which Ghatt describes as “an exciting, one-of-a-kind” organization that serves as a platform for educating the next generation of entrepreneurs and enhancing the business opportunities available to entrepreneurs by educating, advocating, and leveraging networks.
Foremost among the challenges NAMDE is working to resolve are closing the digital divide and ensuring that as many minorities as possible are adopting and learning how to use broadband. “This is something that I wish didn’t need to exist,” says Eggleston on the subject. “I wish there was equal footing. I wish there was already a voice for the multicultural entrepreneur. I wish we were getting our capital fast. The fact of the matter is, we aren’t.”
The spirit of NAMDE and its vision for minority entrepreneurs come through most clearly in its recent filing with the FCC regarding whether and to what extent broadband Internet access services should be regulated. According to Eggleston, NAMDE’s filing “is recognition that we represent a group of culturally diverse entrepreneurs that should have a voice, should be heard, and we are glad that we have the opportunity to do so.”
In particular, NAMDE’s comments urge the FCC to consider how proposed “network neutrality” rules and other regulations for broadband will impact minorities generally and minority entrepreneurs specifically. These users are poised to consume and profit from broadband in unique ways. For example, minority-owned businesses typically benefit from tailored service arrangements with cable and wireless broadband service providers. According to NAMDE’s filing, small businesses can partner with larger companies and work out arrangements for access to their networks at deep discounted prices. Indeed, a significant number of entrepreneurs have been able to launch new businesses or expand existing ones as a result of arrangements for discounted broadband access.
The FCC’s proposed regulations for broadband, however, could undermine these arrangements and make it difficult for future entrepreneurs to obtain similar agreements. With this in mind, “The FCC should not impose rules that have unintended consequences,” says Ghatt. NAMDE’s filing offers the FCC a simple bit of advice: “When you make rules, make sure you take into consideration all groups.”
Marcella Gadson is the Editor in Chief of the Broadband and Social Justice Blog and Director of Communications at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC).