Why digital expansion could save black America

OPINION - Every month of delay in settling the outstanding broadband issues delays the economic recovery that Americans crave...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The votes are in. The message is clear. Jobs and economic recovery are of primary concern to voters, and those are the issues that should be front and center to elected leaders. The voters in campaigns across the country focused their discussion on how government and business could restore health to the nation’s economy and how elected officials can set policy to create jobs for 15 million unemployed men and women. Voters made clear in the town hall meetings and in rallies that they are most concerned about getting back to work and job security. Voters made it clear that supporting their families and creating opportunities for their children and grandchildren are their top priorities. As a former mayor, these are the concerns I have heard in my conversations with other elected officials and neighbors in my hometown.

We need policies that jump start economic activity now, but we also need long-term investment policies for the future. The future of our nation and our communities depends on it. Technology is a critical part of the solution and in the proposed National Broadband Plan there is a road map for closing the digital divide which will create jobs immediately, and lay the foundation for additional jobs in the future. The Obama administration has remained committed to universal, affordable broadband. Once the policies outlined in the plan become reality, it will immediately spark economic activity, and will also help local communities create jobs and expand business opportunities. Every month of delay in settling the outstanding broadband issues delays the economic recovery that Americans crave.

What leaders in both parties can agree on is that the benefits of broadband technologies will touch thousands of Americans in the form of jobs and economic prosperity. Now that the election is behind us, our focus should be on implementing policies in the National Broadband Plan now, so that Americans will reap the benefits for years to come.

A recent analysis of Census data conducted by the Commerce Department finds that, although the percentage of households that connect to the Internet using broadband grew drastically from 2001 to 2009, the racial gap in broadband use continues to widen. The report finds that non-Hispanic white Americans and Asian-Americans are much more likely to go online using a high-speed connection than African-Americans and Hispanics. Not only does this report find that there are still blatant social inequalities amongst different racial groups, but more importantly, it also indicates that many individuals are deprived of thousands of jobs. It is up to our elected officials to reverse this trend.

Through the deployment affordable access to broadband, our national leaders have the power to preserve an open Internet, create jobs, fuel economic growth, spur innovation, and take advantage of the assets of digital technology. To help quantify these benefits, a recent study by the Strategic Networks Group for the e-North Carolina authority (e-NC) found that nearly one in five (18 percent) of new jobs were created as a direct result of Broadband Internet.

In addition, more than half of all businesses (54 percent) said that they would not be in business if they did not have broadband while two in five (41 percent) would have to relocate if broadband was not available in their community. The data is clear. The number of jobs that are dependent on broadband technologies is growing at a rapid pace, and with more accessibility comes more jobs, and more economic prosperity. But the FCC must not prevent these benefits from becoming reality with over-regulation.

Broadband technology is no longer a luxury. Students need it to learn, and adults need it to compete in the job market. It is a necessity. Those without Internet access are quickly falling behind, and will continue to do so if we do not take bold action now. Through the deployment of access to affordable broadband technologies, we can achieve a level playing field. Once the digital divide is closed all Americans will be able to utilize the vast amount of opportunities available online, including learning opportunities, educational resources, and professional development tools.

We need federal policies that promote private investment to reverse the economic downturn. We need policies that encourage business investment to retain current jobs, to expand job training and education opportunities for the unemployed and to create new sustainable, well-paying jobs.