Part I of a two-part series.
MMTC’s eleventh annual Access to Capital conference gave its attendees an opportunity to understand the implications of telecom market trends for consumers and entrepreneurs. The second day of the conference included the panel “A Policy Framework for the Emerging Internet Ecosystem: Opportunities and Barriers for Minorities,” which featured a discussion on the challenges and opportunities for minorities in the Internet and mobile broadband space.
Panelists included AT&T’s Jim Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs, Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs, Visiting Senior Policy Scholar from Georgetown University’s Center for Business and Public Policy, and T-Mobile’s Kathleen O’Brien Ham, Vice President, Federal Regulatory Affairs. MMTC Chair and NetCommunications President Hon. Julia Johnson moderated the discussion.
Johnson framed the session by discussing the interplay between broadband technology and economic opportunity. She stated that broadband is the fuel behind the fire of economic power in the 21st century.
“When you talk about the power of broadband, particularly in the context of wireless and the impact that it will have – and does have – on communities of color, you understand why, from MMTC’s perspective, this is about digital civil rights,” she said. She ended her introductory remarks by saying that the economic power of multicultural communities is real. She emphasized how important it is for us to think of technology as an opportunity to bridge disparities in education, healthcare, and wealth generation.
Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs’s followed Johnson with a presentation on why it’s good business to invest in minority enterprises and minority communities. She highlighted three key factors associated with minority groups that make these communities ideal for investment: rapid growth in minority populations, their steady increase in buying power, and their increasing education and comparative youth. From an investor’s point of view, minority communities are ideal grounds because these factors all indicate enormous market growth potential.
The demographic characteristics Dr. Kovacs discussed happen to coincide with sociological factors, namely the prominence of digital technology. This nexus is where the opportunity lies. For example, the median age for African Americans is 31 years old, versus 38 years old for whites.
“What that means in terms of careers and in terms of earning power is that it’s all ahead of these folks, and so when you invest in these communities, you are investing at the beginning of folks’ careers; you are investing in these folks’ ability to grow,” said Dr. Kovacs. Minority populations also tend to be early adopters, she said. With so many more young people in communities of color, there are greater opportunities for the mutual development of minority economic opportunities and digital markets.
Dr. Kovacs’ presentation showed that minority buying power per capita is increasing every year. The context she provided along with these figures also showed that despite these steady improvements, minority buying power does not yet approach that of white Americans. African Americans’ and Hispanics’ buying power per capita is about half that of whites. Even though there are disparities in this area, the fact that minority populations are growing in number will hopefully have a positive impact on these groups’ economic influence over time.
On the issue of population growth, Dr. Kovacs cited statistics from the US Census indicating that now the minority population in the U.S. is currently just about one-third of the national population, but will increase to about half the population in a decade.
Dr. Kovacs’ background and predictions on opportunities for investment in communities of color provided excellent context for the rest of the discussion with AT&T and T-Mobile executives. She helped open the floor for audience members to “connect the dots” on federal policy issues like the IP Transition and the FCC spectrum incentive auctions, which will be discussed in Part 2 of this article, next week.
To view the panel discussion, in its entirety please access the video online. Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs’ presentation can be accessed from the MMTC website. Photos taken of the panel are also available online.