Need for action on wireless airwaves

A report published by the CEA, the report finds that on average, smartphone owners spend nearly two hours (114 minutes) a day using their phones. Calling remains the most popular activity (23 minutes).  After that comes texting (20 minutes), email (18 minutes), web surfing (16 minutes) and social networking (11 minutes).

While the report does not break down usage by ethnicity, from Pew Research Center, there should be little doubt that Latinos are at the high end of these usage figures.

So why should Latinos – or anyone else – care about this issue?  First, this report is the latest in a series of studies about Americans’ growing dependence on wireless. Every day, we hear about folks "cutting the cord" and getting rid of their landlines altogether. Especially Latinos.

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Second, this trend highlights an important challenge for the country’s increasingly knowledge-based economy and everyone who depends on it: how to ensure that sufficient spectrum is available to meet growing wireless demands.

This is especially important for Latinos who are enthusiastically embracing broadband technologies that provide access to everything from educational tools to exciting career opportunities to quality health care. However, some disparities among the U.S. population’s access to broadband still exist. A recent Obama administration report revealed that just 56 percent of Latinos have broadband at home, a far smaller percentage than the white and Asian communities at 71 percent and 81 percent, respectively. However, a Pew report found that while Hispanics trail other U.S. populations in overall Internet access, they are among the most avid users of mobile broadband. For all Americans, though, the need to improve and expand faster broadband access and adoption is vital, and recent Congressional discussions in our nation’s capital are a promising sign that the digital divide is narrowing.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to expand wireless broadband access next year by auctioning off spectrum — the airwaves that carry data and connect our mobile devices to the world — to wireless carriers so that we can connect to the internet and download faster than ever before.

As the FCC gears up for the upcoming spectrum auctions, some have proposed rules that would limit auction participation and fail to encourage greater involvement by a broader range of entities.   The benefits of mobile broadband are vast, and educating Latino tech businesses of the opportunities for job creation and innovation that would result from an open and participatory auction process are crucial for economic development.  Holding an auction that allows all qualified bidders to compete equally for the spectrum necessary to meet consumer demand, is key to ensuring an inclusive and successful auction. Simply put, restricting access to much-needed airwaves for underserved communities hurts the consumer first and foremost, as additional spectrum is the fuel needed for delivering continued quality service, lower prices, and innovative mobile capabilities.

As the president and CEO of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA), I and my organization believe in the power of advanced broadband technologies to enlighten and connect communities, develop innovation and create new possibilities and opportunities. Access to high-speed broadband and reliable internet service is integral to participating fully in the digital age. We can all use this 21st century resource to engage individuals, families, students and develop small businesses; while improving quality of life; promoting our communities; and transforming our futures.

Fueling our nation's mobile communications capabilities will help facilitate faster speeds, more capabilities, new innovations, and the services of tomorrow. We can accelerate this modernization effort by adopting policies that encourage and educate Latino and other minorities, and the development of small business, investment and competition. Outdated regulations that hinder competition discourage investment, slow progress and hamper access to 21st century networks.

Instead, we need public-private collaboration, modern government policies, education and smart oversight that will advance our broadband future.  Hopefully, the FCC and Congress will take the important first step of designing spectrum auctions that make sense for all and that will continue to breed innovation and success in today’s competitive wireless ecosystem.

Marquez, a U.S. Army veteran, and former Sprint and AT&T executive, is the founder and executive director for Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association (LISTA) – a national non-profit that provides direct-services to Latinos in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.