Monday, December 19
Over the past week, an interesting debate has occurred over the question of whether the growth of smartphone usage among minorities has created a new digital underclass.
The conversation was sparked when Colorlines published a provocative article titled “How Big Telecom Used Smartphones to Create a New Digital Divide.” In it, author Jamilah King argues that despite the unprecedented demand for and adoption of mobile broadband among minorities, Internet providers are, in fact, making America’s digital divide worse. Coining the rather inflammatory phrase “Cyber Ghettos,” King writes:
[M]obile wireless is quickly taking shape as a second Internet, one in which people of color and users with little income are entirely dependent upon cell phone companies for access. That Internet is unregulated. Companies are free to do as they please with customers—they can control what users see, do and say online. And as the country grows more dependent on high speed Internet, the handful of companies who own its mobile version are steadily working to consolidate their power. Whether and how policy makers allow that to happen may determine who gets a voice in our 21st century economy, and who’s left as its prey.
Those are some strong words, and as it turns out, technology journalist Elesha Barnette of Politic365 took issue with King’s argument. Calling the Colorlines article a “hit job” on wireless, Barnette writes:
[The article] begins by lauding the industry for its inexpensive mobile devices that allow users to surf the web. Citing research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, the article informs readers that wireless access and smartphones have been the choice of Latinos, African Americans, and others who traditionally have been disadvantaged.
Then suddenly it takes a turn. Instead of recognizing the industry for making accessible, affordable smartphones that bridge the Internet’s long-discussed digital divide, Colorlines accuses the telecom industry of intentionally creating a digital second class.
Barnett continues by pointing out that:
Smartphones and wireless broadband put the power of an internet computer in the palm of a user’s hand for a fraction of the price. Isn’t that what it’s all about? They can do more with less from anywhere—banking, email, surfing the web, conducting business and playing games. Smartphones have even had a hand in ousting dictators.
As I see it, there is a legitimate point that we could slip into an Internet culture where two basic technologies could lead to two bifurcated Internet worlds. But the distinction is one of technology, not because of some nefarious plot by telecom companies to relegate people of color to an inferior cyber experience. As a case in point, as 4G LTE networks are expanded the separation between mobile and wired is blurring. Not to mention, the impact of the recent explosion of various mobile tablet devices such as iPads and other similar emerging products that cover a wide range of price points. These devices straddle the line between mobile and non-mobile Internet, in terms of the hardware, software and capability.
Fundamentally, this debate at its core is about opportunity. Having the ability to take advantage of 21st century technologies to overcome barriers to success—be they economic, institutional, or educational. In this vain, Barnett succinctly writes:
In an ideal world everyone would have the resources and/or opportunity to have both a broadband connection at home and a mobile internet enabled device in their pocket. That is just not the case. In many cases, wired broadband isn’t affordable or isn’t available. And, in some cases, wireless broadband is superior to certain wired broadband offerings in both speed and quality. Wireless broadband and smartphone have driven down the cost of computing and internet access, created more choice for consumers, narrowed the digital divide, and driven innovation that empowers those who were previously left behind.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Monday, November 14
In 2009, 64% of American households had a broadband connection. In 2010, that number bumped up to 68%.
I’m not pulling these numbers out of a hat. They’re courtesy of a new report from the Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Entitled “Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home,” the report looks at not just percentages of households connected, but more importantly, reasons why households may not be online.
On the percentage front: Given the economic and social benefits of having a connection to the Internet, both the 2009 and 2010 numbers are still far too low. Still, a % bump is a % bump, and the trend line is certainly encouraging; as the report highlights, just three years ago the number of households with a connection was a paltry 51%.
But while tracking the increase in household adoption is certainly valuable, ESA and NTIA’s report packs its real punch in the examination of why. From the report:
Here is what we know: Households that do not subscribe to any Internet service — dial-up or broadband — cited as the main reasons a lack of need or interest (47%); lack of affordability (24%); and an inadequate computer (15%).
That first number should jump out at you (and not just because I bolded it). In this day and age, 47% —nearly half — of those who are not connected feel they don’t need or just plain aren’t interested in being online at home. While many of them truly have no interest in a home connection (perhaps they only want to be on a computer at work), such a high percentage suggests that one hurdle to closing the digital divide is education.
Obviously we can’t — and shouldn’t — try to force people who are genuinely uninterested in being connected to embrace the Internet. And certainly, mobile broadband can replace the need for a home broadband connection for many, as adoption rates in the African American and Hispanic communities have shown.
But if a lack of technological savvy is keeping people from joining the digital age, that is something America should be correcting, by public or private means. Why? Well, ESA and NTIA’s report words it perfectly:
A digitally connected population, which helps foster innovation, economic growth and social communication, is critical for U.S. competitiveness in a global economy.
It’s hard to argue with that.
Monday, November 07
Lately, one word has dominated real estate at the intersection of technology and government policy. Chances are you’ve heard it even if you aren’t a tech-head or policy wonk.
That word is spectrum.
It’s been called the oxygen of wireless communications. The precious resource behind everything from smartphones to garage door openers. And at the moment, America is facing a spectrum problem. Specifically, a shortage — a “spectrum crunch,” as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has called it.
The leading cause of this “crunch” is the rise of mobile broadband. According to a startling new report from the Global Information Industry Center, unless more spectrum is made available to keep up with increasing demand for wireless data, one of America’s most vibrant industries risks grinding to a halt.
Penned by technology industry strategist Michael Kleeman, “Point of View: Wireless Point of Disconnect” [PDF] offers up a lot of numbers that are at the same time impressive and scary. For example:
”Upwards of 95 million Americans now have active smartphones and wireless-enabled PDA’s and the volume of data traffic on U.S. networks is expected to increase by 1,800 percent over the next four years.”
For any other industry, an increase of 1,800 percent would be cause for celebration. But for America’s wireless providers, such a projected spike in traffic sets off warning flares. Kleeman likens the increase to a third of drivers swapping out “voice cars” for “18-wheeled ‘data’ trucks” — in other words, just think of the coming gridlock.
To help frame why this increase is occurring, Kleeman looks to what is arguably the most popular mobile device in America today: Apple’s iPhone. As he writes:
We all now understand that an iPhone uses more bandwidth than a non-smartphone — equivalent to 96 non-smartphones by one estimate. What we are now starting to learn is how fast the data consumption per smartphone is growing. The average amount of traffic per smartphone in 2010 was 79 MB per month, up from 35 MB per month in 2009.
The result—wireless data traffic jumped by more than 50% from 2009-2010. And according to AT&T, just one of the U.S. carriers offering Apple’s device, there were over one million activations of the iPhone 4S on its network in less than a week.
Start taking all these numbers to the back of the envelope, and the current course and speed leads directly to an iceberg — unless more spectrum can be made available.
And it needs to be made available quickly. By most estimates, it can take as long as seven years for the spectrum allocation process — from inventory to auction to implementation — to occur. Remember that 1,800 percent increase in traffic in the next four years projection you read earlier?
Kleeman’s report offers much more information, all of it reinforcing the bleak forecast of demand soon outpacing capacity on America’s wireless networks. And while it’s encouraging that spectrum is currently a big buzzword in Washington, what’s needed now most of all is action.
That means more oxygen for wireless as soon as possible. And it means allowing the free market to acquire more spectrum in order to keep pace.
As the unprecedented rise of mobile broadband shows, there’s a reason wireless communication has been called one of the very bright spots in America’s current economy. But as Kleeman’s report highlights, unless policies are able to keep up with the speed of technology, explosive demand can quickly become too much of a good thing.
Friday, October 14
Earlier this week, WisBusiness.com organized a luncheon in Madison, Wisconsin on the topic of broadband expansion and economic development. IIA co-sponsored the event with the Wisconsin Technology Council, and our Senior Advisor Broderick Johnson was a featured guest.
For a good rundown of the lively discussion — which ranged from the importance of private investment in broadband to reforming USF — head over to WisBusiness.com.
Monday, October 03
Despite being America’s largest racial minority group, the African-American community has traditionally been under-recognized when it comes to consumer spending habits. Enter a new report from Nielsen (in collaboration with the National Newspaper Publishers Association), “The State of the African-American Consumer,” which finds African-Americans are a major force in America’s economy. How major? From page 6 of the report:
”With a buying power of nearly $1 trillion annually, if African-Americans were a country, they’d be the 16th largest country in the world.”
One trillion annually. A spot between Indonesia and Turkey on a list of country GDP. Not bad for a community that makes up less than 14% of the total U.S. population.
But Nielsen’s study goes beyond spending power. It also explores the role of technology in the African-American community — specifically Internet usage and smartphone adoption. As we experience each and every day, these technologies are proving to be transformative. They have not only changed how we communicate and entertain ourselves, they have also become an invaluable resource for achieving new educational, business and professional opportunities. Yet, the Nielsen numbers are both a cause for celebration and a reminder of how much work remains in getting every American to fully embrace today’s newest tools for economic empowerment..
On the challenging front: Despite a population near 43 million, a little over 23 million — or roughly 56% — of African-Americans are active Internet users.
Considering how much the Internet is now ingrained in our daily lives, that percentage is far from ideal, and amplifies yet again that a digital divide still very much persists in this country. But here’s where things get good: when it comes to arguably the fastest-growing means for accessing the Internet, African-Americans are doing much better.
According to the study, 33% of all African-Americans now own a smartphone, and when you consider how relatively young the smartphone industry is, that percentage is rather impressive. As with most technology, it’s the younger generation leading the charge in smartphone adoption, but Nielsen also finds that 38% of African-Americans aged 35-44 and 27% aged 55-64 are currently online on the go. This suggests mobile broadband — which is the TNT behind the smartphone explosion — is increasingly how African-Americans across generations are connecting online.
I’ve written before about the promise of next-generation mobile broadband, but one thing Nielsen’s findings brings to mind is the fact that the difference between wired broadband and broadband in your pocket could soon be negligible. The key to connecting everyone to broadband (and boosting the active Internet use rate among African-Americans far above 56%) won’t be in bringing wired broadband to everyone. It will be making more powerful mobile broadband available to everyone. And while it will be great that more people will have the ability to stream the hottest new movie on a device while on the go, the greatest promise for me is that many currently underserved communities will have real time access to information that can make a significant difference in people’s lives. Thanks to this technology, more people will hopefully have the opportunity to take advantage of online educational tools, job training programs, financial literacy seminars, and career fairs.
It is imperative, then, that policymakers and the private sector continue to encourage encourage the private investment (as would result from the proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile) necessary to keep America’s invisible digital infrastructure growing and evolving across America — from farmlands to inner-city communities, and every zip code in between.
The future of America’s economy is indeed “up in the air”, traveling from Internet backbone to device. Nielsen’s study shows there are at least a trillion reasons why we need to ensure mobile broadband is available to everyone. With this investment, there’s no reason why the “16th largest country” won’t be in the top ten before long.
Tuesday, September 27
Yesterday, our own Broderick Johnson appeared on the show Common Ground on Rhode Island’s AM 790. Audio of the segment is available at the station’s website, with Broderick’s appearance at roughly the eight minute, fifteen second mark. Check it out.
Thursday, September 22
Earlier this week, the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland released a study, “The Facebook App Economy,” which estimated the app ecosystem of the popular social networking is now directly responsible for over 182,000 jobs. And that’s just a drop in the job creation bucket. The study also estimates the entire Facebook app economy has produced over 235,000 jobs and contributed some $15 billion to the U.S. economy.
While the current app craze may not last — at least not at its current fever pitch — there’s no denying that right now the ecosystem is thriving. And producing. And it’s not just Facebook that is growing in the app environment. Amazon, Microsoft, and the Android mobile platforms each boast healthy app stores of their own, thereby creating additional jobs, encouraging investment, and adding value to the entire economy.
Then there’s Apple’s App Store, which this past July hit two impressive milestones: over 500,000 apps available, and over 15 billion — that’s right, billion — app downloads. Think that’s impressive? Think about the number of people working on mobile apps for Apple’s service right now. Then think about the fact the company’s App Store didn’t even exist four years ago.
Just five years ago, the online economy mainly brought to mind services or advertising. But the unprecedented adoption of mobile broadband has launched a new platform where everything from a 99¢ game to an entire online book store can create careers and inspire businesses.
The mobile broadband platform has the power to drive innovation and investment for decades to come. Three short years ago, the second iPhone helped ignite the mobile broadband explosion when it made “3G” a household term. Now mobile broadband is moving into the next generation.
The LTE era is right around the corner. We should all be excited for what it will bring.
Wednesday, September 14
That’s the percentage of adult Internet users now connected to others via social networking sites, according to a study by Pew Research Center released late last month. And surprisingly, it’s not those just past the threshold into adulthood who are jumping in the online social world the most, but rather the Boomers, whose usage on a typical day jumped a whopping 60% in the last year.
What does this tell us? For one, social networks are now a major means of communication in today’s business and social economies. And secondly, the expansion of broadband technology has made the social web faster, increasingly interconnected, and more valuable to its users. Gone are the days when online interaction seemed like a trek into the wild and unruly frontier. The rise of the social web also points to our increasing reliance on digital communication in the economy and thus to job creation and economic growth and opportunity.
Services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn not only make it easy for us to stay connected to people important to us, they’re also playing an important role in business. More and more companies are leveraging the power of social interaction to sell products and services; for example, the emergence of local and family owned food trucks can be attributed to their use of Twitter for real time menu, location, and deal updates.
In addition to changing the conversation between businesses and consumers, the social web, networking through networks, has also enhanced the job seeker’s ability to find (and be found by) potential employers, careers, and startup business opportunities.
That’s what makes the rise of the social web so exciting to watch. When social sites first started hitting the mainstream, social networking may have seemed like little more than a fad. But from the Pony Express to email, we have always looked for new — and more immediate — ways to communicate, and social networking has taken its place as the latest leap forward.
Today, we check in to locations to find nearby deals. We check in with friends for reviews of products and services. We check in with companies to find a job. The rise of social networking has been enhanced by the rise of mobile broadband, and together they are changing our ways of communicating and the face of our economy.
All business, whether it’s conducted between co-workers or in the global marketplace, depends on interaction. You want to put America back to work? Give every American the ability to interact. Put the power of broadband — wired or wireless — in their hands.
They’ll do more than announce the score of the ball game.
Thursday, August 25
On Monday, Deloitte Consulting released a study (PDF) that offers a blueprint for healing America’s ailing economy. Or at the very least, giving it a much-need boost.
“The Impact of 4G Technology on Commercial Interactions, Economic Growth, and U.S. Competitiveness” is the group’s deep dive into the economic benefits of telecoms building out their next-generation networks. At 26 pages it’s relatively lean as these types of studies go, but it punches well above its weight. From the very first page:
U.S. investment in 4G networks could fall in the range of $25-$53 billion during 2012-2016; conservatively, these investments could account for $73-$151 billon in GDP growth and 371,000-771,000 new jobs”
Those investment and GDP growth numbers are impressive, but it’s the jobs numbers that deserve laser-like focus — especially since they are estimates for 4G investment alone. As the study states:
[T]he GDP and jobs estimates do not take into account the wider effects of applying 4G technology, such as the production of new devices and applications; the creation of new companies; and better ways for working, living, and learning.
So basically, deploying 4G will create jobs during building and beyond, and those jobs will not just be through the providers but also in large segments of the economic ecoystem.
That makes 4G more than a robust digital backbone, it makes it an engine, one that has the potential to kickstart America’s economy. This is why it’s crucial for America’s regulators to continue to strike the right balance between consumer protection and encouraging America’s telecom providers to build out their networks.
That means more than allocating much-needed spectrum for wireless use, although that’s certainly critical. It also means approving the merger of AT&T and T-Mobile, which will greatly expand investment in and build-out of AT&T’s 4G LTE network.
As Deloitte’s research makes clear, next-generation 4G LTE will be critical for our economy — both in the short term and for years to come. We all know America needs jobs, and we need them now.
Tuesday, August 16
Often, we humans seem to get a bit beyond ourselves. We invent a new product, a new technology, a new way of seeing the world and before too long it seems we’re playing catch up with the inventions of our wondrous imaginations. It’s hard to believe it was just eight years ago that the BlackBerry smartphone first took the business world by storm. And it was a mere four years later, Apple’s iPhone would bring the power of the smartphone to the masses.
Today, smartphone adoption is increasing at an unprecedented rate. According to a recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 35 percent, or one-third, of American adults now own smartphones. That’s a lot of adoption in a short amount of time, and it shows no signs of abating.
But, while the allure of the gadget certainly drives the desire for smartphones, it’s the underlying infrastructure that powers this explosive growth. That infrastructure is what supports mobile broadband, allowing access to the Internet minus dependence on wires and desktop computers. The unifying goal of ubiquitous, transformative access to the Internet gets closer to reality, particularly as long as innovation and necessary investments from the private sector continue – taxpayers cannot afford to foot the bill for infrastructure build-out on their own.
Ever since the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) first identified America’s growing technology adoption gap in 1995, there has been much warranted concern over the “digital divide”. But now, thanks to the expansion of mobile broadband, dramatic progress is being made. According to Pew’s study, 44 percent of African Americans and Latinos — two groups consistently on the losing end of the digital divide — are now smartphone users. And among that group, 38 percent mostly use their phones to access the Internet.
And yet, access is only half the story. The sequel relates to what gets done with that access. It’s big fun to use your smartphone to download music and videos, sporting events, and to text your friends. Youth of little or no privivilege need to better understand that access to the Internet can indeed transform their lives and prospects for the future. Those smartphone gadgets on their hips or in their pockets are grounded in technology that on a grander scale helps doctors save patients, business owners create successful businesses, teachers better educate and train their students, and job seekers better position themselves to win the jobs of the future.
In short, as we continue to close the “digital divide” through increased deployment and adoption of mobile broadband, let us also increase our focus on the transformative power of the Internet to help close the “opportunity divide.” As we applaud our brown and black youth for hooking up with the Internet, let’s not neglect to ask “So whatcha going to do with it?”
Wednesday, July 13
We’re excited to announce that Former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Henry Rivera, and strategic policy and communications advisor Broderick Johnson have joined our leadership team as Strategic Counsel and Senior Advisor, respectively.
Rivera and Johnson will devote their efforts to furthering the longtime mission of IIA, the expansion of broadband availability and adoption for all Americans, particularly increased mobile connectivity for underserved populations like communities of color and rural areas.
“Rivera and Johnson have been actively involved in the telecommunications and non-profit sectors for many years, and their experience will be invaluable as we continue working alongside public and private leaders to ensure every American is equipped with high-speed broadband Internet. We greatly appreciate their partnership and dedication to this important mission, which has been integral to IIA since its inception seven years ago.”
— Bruce Mehlman, IIA founder and Co-Chairman
Henry M. Rivera was the first Hispanic FCC Commissioner, appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He served as a chair and member of FCC and State Department Advisory Committees, as well as a member of U.S. delegations to international telecommunications conferences. Rivera was named one of the top 12 telecom experts in the United States by Legal Media Group’s Best of the Best, in Super Lawyers of Washington, D.C., in The Best Lawyers in America, and in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business. He’s currently a partner with Wiley Rein LLP in the firm’s telecommunications practice.
“Reaching 100 percent broadband has long been a goal of mine, as much of my career has focused on paving the way for information technologies to transform our society. It is an exciting time for telecommunications policy, with real solutions to achieving this goal having been put on the table. I look forward to drawing from my experiences to shed light on a path that will lead our country to realization of broadband for all Americans.”
— Henry M. Rivera
Broderick Johnson has an impressive track record in Washington, D.C., having started his career in the House of Representatives as an assistant legislative counsel, served as chief counsel to the House Committee on the District of Columbia, and as Democratic chief counsel to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Johnson also was an informal advisor to the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, a senior congressional affairs advisor to the Kerry campaign in 2004 and the primary liaison to the House of Representatives in the Clinton White House. He has served as a board director of philanthropic and academic groups, including Concerned Black Men, Project Northstar, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. Johnson was most recently a partner and a member of the executive committee at the international law firm Bryan Cave and now is a founding partner of the newly-established firm The Collins/Johnson Group, specializing in providing strategic policy and communications advice to corporations and non-profits.
“High-speed Internet is the common denominator in the advancement of education, health care and economic opportunities in modern society. Closing gaps in broadband connectivity is like killing ten birds with one stone, because expanding Internet coverage nationwide makes progress across the board possible.”
— Broderick Johnson