Louisiana State Senator Sharon Weston Broome is the president of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative/Women (NOBEL/Women). NOBEL/Women is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization primarily composed of current and former black women legislators as well as appointed officials.
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct honor of serving as a panelist alongside two of my NOBEL/Women colleagues during the “Securing Universal Broadband Adoption by Women and Families” session at the Minority Media and Telecommunication Council’s 2012 Broadband and Social Justice Summit.
The discussion was timely because NOBEL/Women hosted our Annual Congressional Broadband Technology and Media Forum just a few days prior.
As a panelist at the MMTC Summit, it was my goal to shed light on how we, as elected officials can ensure that women adopt broadband for themselves as well as their families. Unfortunately, there are still obstacles facing the 35 percent of women in the nation who have yet to adopt broadband. These obstacles include the cost of broadband, the lack of digital literacy, and the fact that women and families simply do not know how this cutting-edge technology could positively influence their lives.
Last year, NOBEL/Women collaborated with the National Foundation of Women Legislators to produce a report titled Winning the Future: A Policy Framework for Empowering Women with Broadband. In our report, we mentioned the ways women use broadband as well as the various opportunities it can afford them. We highlighted the ways women use broadband to continue their education, find and secure employment, launch home and broadband-based businesses, research health issues, and enhance family and community engagement.
Additionally, in 2010, NOBEL/Women passed a resolution that encouraged government, industry and individual efforts to identify and leverage opportunities to increase home broadband adoption through culturally relevant content that helps people better understand and value broadband as an essential service.
While at MMTC’s summit, I was pleased to meet Brigitte Daniel, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Wilco Electronic Systems, and learn about her company’s efforts in securing broadband for Philadelphia’s underserved communities. After receiving a National Telecommunications and Information Administration Broadband Technology Opportunity grant in 2010, Wilco and several other organizations formed a public-private partnership called Philadelphia Freedom Rings. They used a portion of the funding to distribute laptops and provide digital literacy training to the area’s public housing residents, where women overwhelmingly served as the trainees of the program. This an accomplishment that NOBEL/Women would like to see replicated in other underserved communities.
Public-private partnerships such as the one Wilco joined demonstrate how government and the private sector can work together to secure broadband for women and their families. It also establishes that increasing broadband adoption for people facing significant obstacles is a collaborative effort.
I also heard from Donna Sullivan of North Carolina at the session. She pleaded for partners to help her get broadband deployed in the areas she serves. Ms. Sullivan revealed that these places, comprised mostly of minority populations, use dial-up connections to access the Internet.
In this day and age, no one should miss the rewards broadband can provide. Instances such as the examples Ms. Daniel and Ms. Sullivan shared show the considerable amount of work we need to do in order to secure universal broadband adoption. Their examples also demonstrate how imperative it is that we make sure that high-speed broadband is deployed in our nation’s underserved communities.
In addition, more local, state, and federal elected officials should address the challenges keeping women from adopting broadband. We as lawmakers can turn these obstacles into opportunities.
For example, the cost, particularly the high wireless, digital goods, and services taxes associated with mobile broadband-enabled devices, poses a hindrance for women broadband adoption and jeopardizes mobile broadband adoption overall.
In my home state of Louisiana, our tax on digital goods and services is one of the lowest in the nation at 6.3 percent. However, other states cannot say the same.
Last year, NOBEL/Women passed a resolution urging our fellow legislators to establish a national framework that will provide certainty and uniformity for state and local governments in the taxation of digital goods and services, while protecting consumers from multiple and discriminatory taxation and supporting the continued growth of the digital economy.
NOBEL/Women is devoted to empowering and equipping women with the necessary knowledge and resources to adopt broadband. We are also committed to collaborating and supporting elected women in all levels of government to increase broadband adoption rates, ensure that broadband is deployed nationally, and to refrain from proposing and enacting measures that may put our people at risk for multiple and discriminatory taxation of digital goods and services.
By performing these tasks, we can demonstrate to women how they and their families can reap the benefits of broadband and encourage them to adopt it. In this way, we can ensure that women and their families will be prepared to exercise a first-class citizenship in today’s digital-driven society.