Industry Engagement to Advance Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurship and Business Development Opportunities in Broadband and the High Tech Sector: A Look at AT&T

by Latoya Livingston on July 31, 2011

This article is the first in a three-part series on government and corporate industry engagement. Look for the Part II of the series next week!

In our increasingly digital society, digital entrepreneurship is becoming ever more prevalent. In the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society, minorities missed out and fell behind due to systemic racism and discrimination. These groups are still paying the price. In our current shift from an industrial to a digital society, we are uniquely positioned to learn from our past and avoid making the same mistakes. In this transition, multicultural digital entrepreneurship is key.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, as well as our own government, recognize how vital diversity is in digital entrepreneurship and business development. Although the three companies are often competitors in the market, each have come to the same conclusion on the future for broadband: Expansion of broadband will result in innovative opportunities for consumers and entrepreneurs alike. With the anniversary of the National Broadband Plan and President Obama’s commitment to broadband deployment, continued growth within the telecom industry is inevitable. But where is the growth?

It’s everywhere.

  • In 2010, total industry capital expenditures reached $66 billion, a 2.4 percent increase from 2009.
  • Presently, 66 percent o*f new jobs are with businesses with less than 500 employees.
  • Looking forward, a $10 billion investment into broadband can create about 500,000 jobs, $262,000 in U.S. small businesses alone.

So what does this mean?

It means opportunities. At MMTC’s 25th Anniversary and 9th Annual Access to Capital and Telecom Policy Conference last month, representatives from the government three major telecom companies touted the programs and measures that have been implemented or will be made available to increase entrepreneurship among, and investment in, people of color and their communities.

Representing AT&T at the Conference, James Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs, applauded MMTC in its fight for issues that are not only crucial to the telecom industry, but to the country as a whole. He stressed the importance of setting a positive example, noting that AT&T has always been committed to advancing opportunities for minority entrepreneurs. This has been standard procedure for the company since 1968, when it was the first telecom company to offer minority procurement – a practice that, according to Cicconi, has been embedded in AT&T’s corporate culture – to the present , where it has a level of workforce diversity that exceeds the national average. In fact, Cicconi noted that AT&T’s diversity is even taken into account when his job performance is evaluated by AT&T’s chairman and board.

AT&T’s internal culture of supporting diversity initiatives has translated over to what Cicconi calls “an aggressive procurement program.” Last year, AT&T spent $9.2 billion on minority firm procurement, an impressive number that the company hopes to improve upon in this coming year. The company is also taking into account the disproportionate affect that price has on minority and low-income customers. Cicconi vowed that AT&T will take that fact into account when pricing its products. All in all, Cicconi stated that their immediate focus will be on advancing broadband access, and the company’s merger with T-Mobile, if approved, will help make huge strides toward achieving that goal.

To no one’s surprise, the question and answer portion of Cicconi’s panel brought with it questions about the anticipated AT&T/T-Mobile merger. When specifically asked about protections in the mobile world so that people can still get affordable service, Cicconi focused on the intended benefits of the merger. According to Cicconi, there is practically no danger of a duopoly among wireless providers, namely AT&T and Verizon. With increased market competition and the number of Americans with access growing, Cicconi sees the smaller service providers such as Metro PCS and Leap Wireless thriving in an ever-expanding market.

Cicconi noted that prior to the proposed merger, T-Mobile was voluntarily opting out of the U.S. market in order to focus on its European market – rather than the company being forced out by big wireless companies, as was widely believed, the move was more of an independent business decision prompted by what was best for the company.
Regardless of whether the merger is approved, the U.S. needs increased spectrum access to compete with South Korea and other digitally dominant nations. Cicconi cited some alarming numbers to back up his proposition: by next fall, New York City will be out of spectrum, and many major metropolitan areas are dangerously close to the same situation. According to Cicconi, the AT&T/T-Mobile merger, along with other transactions of that nature, is needed in order to meet U.S. spectrum requirements for an innovative, diverse, and globally competitive future.

  • Latoya Livingston

    Latoya Livingston is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with years of experience working in the public and private sector. Attorney Livingston joins MMTC after performing pro bono work for the organization last year.

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  • Anonymous

    Ms. Livingston’s article places focus on a point too often overlooked during this debate over AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile: the investment opportunities.  While tech does rise and fall with consumer sentiment, in the immediate and long term, the market is showing continued demand for new and advanced products not only here in the U.S., but abroad.  There is an unmet global need that minority entrepreneurs can still take advantage of. 

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Livingston’s article places focus on a point too often overlooked during this debate over AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile: the investment opportunities.  While tech does rise and fall with consumer sentiment, in the immediate and long term, the market is showing continued demand for new and advanced products not only here in the U.S., but abroad.  There is an unmet global need that minority entrepreneurs can still take advantage of. 

  • John_Q_Public

    Despite all of the negativity and cynicism surrounding so many issues in the telecom/broadband sector, large service providers like at&t continue to invest tens of billions of dollars each year in their products. These investments create thousands of jobs and generate economic benefits for millions of customers across the country. Rather than demonizing these companies, we should be encouraging them to continue doing what they do because the benefits far outweigh any costs they have caused.

  • JCraigDC

    Great points made on the spectrum shortage.  An issue not many consumers know of, especially considering providers changing rates and eliminating unlimited plans.  Spectrum is critical.

  • S.W.

    Kudos to AT&T for this! More and more, large companies are taking corporate social responsibility seriously and I’m glad to see this effort toward diversity inclusion. It’s long-awaited and much-needed. Hopefully other influential companies in all sectors will follow suit!

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