The Internet is just a few decades old, but today it is vital to the success of virtually every American.
Yet millions of Americans – particularly people of color – are missing out on the many opportunities afforded by broadband (high speed) Internet access.
Our struggle began as one for civil and human rights, but even with great progress, when it comes to digital literacy, an egregious number of African-Americans and Hispanics remain locked out of net equality, trapped on the wrong side of a widening gap that we call the “digital divide.”
The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) and our partners, including National Urban League, the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, and many others, are committed to addressing – and finding solutions for – this social justice issue, starting with our seniors.
Black seniors offline
Recent data from the Pew Research Center found that African-Americans age 65 and older have the lowest rates of Internet adoption (meaning they do not use the Internet) in the U.S.
It is vital that we get our seniors connected because it’s no secret that many African-American seniors are raising grandchildren. If the grandparents do not have access to or are not using the Internet at home, it is likely that the grandchildren do not have access to the Internet. As wonderful as smartphones are, children cannot do their homework on a smartphone – but for some, this poor option is their only option.
Research shows that the main reasons people give for not using the Internet are a perceived lack of relevance; affordability; and lack of Internet-capable devices, namely personal computers. Our goal is to shed light on these issues and fix these barriers to an Internet where everyone is connected. Black and Hispanic seniors who do not have broadband or high speed Internet at home are missing out on opportunities to connect and improve their quality of life through tele-health monitoring, staying in touch with family members, accessing education and financial tools such as mobile banking, accessing government services, and locating jobs and educational opportunities online.
Black kids and STEM
It’s also important to get more Black and Hispanic youth into the technology pipeline so they can take advantage of career and business opportunities in the high-tech fields. African-Americans and Hispanics have historically fared poorly when it comes to taking advantage of high-tech industry employment opportunities. Jobs in the high tech sector are plentiful and they pay well, but they require that youth take the essential science and math courses that are necessary to obtaining degrees and jobs in the high-tech field, often referred to as STEM careers: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Jobs of the future
Media and telecommunications make up a staggering one-sixth of the global economy, and technology is a growing part of it. This is where the jobs are now, and this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. While the cable and telecom sectors are fairly diverse, the extremely low representation of minorities and women in Silicon Valley high-tech companies is an issue that demands our attention.
Last year, after pressure from Rev. Jesse Jackson, top Silicon Valley companies finally released data on the diversity of their workforce. The truth was sobering. USA Today reported that African-Americans and Hispanics are being hired in the high-tech sector at only half the rate at which they are graduating with math and science degrees.
The majority of top Silicon Valley companies have all-White boards, and their workforce is only made of up 1.8 percent African-Americans and 3.2 percent Hispanic Americans. Even Asian Americans are concentrated in midlevels without reaching the upper levels of tech management.
These companies have a responsibility to employ a workforce that looks like America at all levels. Net equality means we own as well as consume technology, and that we and participate at every rung of the tech corporate ladder.
Since these profoundly low diversity numbers were released, Intel has set a positive example for the industry with the announcement of its $300 million Diversity in Technology Initiative with the goal of creating a workforce in tech that looks like America. Apple recently included minority-owned brokerage firms in its $6.5 billion bond sale, similar to what Verizon has been doing for the past few years.
These efforts represent steps in the right direction to achieve more diversity in jobs and entrepreneurship, but there is much more to be done to prepare our communities for the jobs and the business opportunities in the here and now as well as the future.
What you can do
My organization, MMTC, partners with dozens of other civil rights organizations, including the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National Urban League, the Hispanic Telecommunications and Technology Partnership, the NAACP, the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, and many others, to ensure communities of color are included in innovation age.
We have advocated extensively for the extension of federal programs like “E-Rate,” which provides funding to low-income schools and libraries to get them connected to high-speed broadband.
We will continue to urge the addition of broadband service to the Universal Service Fund, which currently helps low-income Americans connect to and pay for telephone service.
We will not rest until top technology firms take action to improve employment diversity at all levels within their companies and supply chains.
We will keep fighting for rules that keep the Internet open and protect consumers.
Visit our website, www.mmtconline.org, to learn more about how to engage with your representatives to close the digital divide, protect consumers, and help the Internet remain the powerful tool it has become for our communities.
It takes a village to close the digital divide, and together we have the power to make a difference – and attain net equality for all.
- Kim Keenan, Esq., is President and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council. Prior to taking the helm at MMTC, Keenan served as General Counsel and Secretary of the NAACP. She is a Past President of the 100,000 member District of Columbia Bar and the 60,000 member National Bar Association network, the largest network of African American lawyers, judges, and law students in the country.