At the NAACP, we strive every day to enable African Americans — and all Americans — to secure first-class citizenship. How is that possible in an economy that is transforming itself from industrial to digital — and doing that in Internet time?
We’ve concluded that access to broadband — having it available in our homes and through wireless technology, everywhere we go — is one of the keys to civil rights advancement in the digital age. The other key is broadband adoption — making sure that all Americans understand the value proposition for subscribing to broadband and using it as a tool of empowerment and success.
This principle came to life recently in Miami when black actors, directors and writers gathered to be honored for their contribution to film. Although the American Black Film Festival generally focused on strengthening the filmmaking community through networking, workshops and discussions, one film explored the black community in the digital age.
On opening night, social-purpose media guru Robert Townsend premiered In the Hive, a movie that tells the true story of a remarkable woman in rural North Carolina who, with the assistance of One Economy, uses technology at an alternative school to give troubled boys a second chance at life. The Hive provides a safe haven and helps the boys gain self-confidence and an education while learning how to use technology to build a future.
As these young men can attest, broadband is an engine of economic, personal, community and societal growth, and their story illustrates why closing the digital divide should be the nation’s No. 1 communications policy priority. Those without broadband are relegated to second-class citizenship in our digital age.
Mobile broadband has emerged as the primary way African Americans adopt broadband, as minorities are more likely to “cut the cord” of their landline phones and adopt wireless service and smartphones. As demand continues to grow, wireless access could diminish due to the severe shortage of available broadband spectrum.
Increased accesses to spectrum and network solutions are necessary components of a master plan to close the digital divide. Upgrading and building out wireless networks is not a luxury but a necessity. As such, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP support the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile USA.
Nearly all of the national civil-rights organizations have also issued endorsements. Usually we don’t endorse mergers — most of them kill jobs, frankly — but this one is different. This merger will provide more jobs for minorities and has been endorsed by every major union in the country.
AT&T has pledged through the merger to bring high-speed wireless LTE service to 97 percent of Americans, thus addressing a critical component of closing the digital divide. The improved wireless reach and service will ensure that nearly all minorities have access to the opportunities of the digital era. And nationwide high-speed broadband will be a powerful engine of digital empowerment and job creation.
Think of what the nation could become if broadband technology were in the hands of all of our people. At last, we would have a great equalizer — a fair chance at last at universal first-class citizenship and perhaps the NAACP could declare the victory for social justice that we’ve sought for more than 100 years.
This article by Adora Obi Nweze, president of the Florida State Conference of Branches, NAACP, was originally published in The Miami Herald.