One would have thought my mother coined the phrase, “if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all” and that she was paid to repeat, “if you’re not a part of the solution, then you’re a part of the problem.”
After reading “How Big Telecom Used Smartphones to Create a New Digital Divide,” it’s apparent the author wasn’t privy to such insights growing up. The lengthy article is all about the supposed conspiracy of phone companies using smartphones to discriminate against minorities—some of their best customers.
However, the article contradicts itself, seems intentionally and unfairly negative with regard to the telecom industry and is definitely not a part of the solution. Colorlines calls it investigative reporting.
I call it destructive.
It 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. They go on to assert the existence of two internets in the United States:
“There are, in essence, two Internets emerging in the United States. The first is the one that’s driven innovation and commerce for the past two decades: traditional Internet hookups that connect wires to desktop computers and allow users to work, play and explore from the comfort of their home.”
The other internet is referred to as a “Cyber Ghetto” – the lesser that Internet minorities are relegated to.
Colorlines refuses to see smartphones, wireless broadband and the companies who make them available for purchase for what they really are: a revolutionary success for innovation and Internet access.
Smartphones and wireless broadband put the power of an Internet computer in the palm of a users 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. Mobile money services – from banking to grocery shopping – have made life a little easier for Haitian earthquake victims, and it is fast becoming an efficient, inexpensive way of life.
Smartphones and wireless have been more successful than we could have imagined just ten years ago. This success is something that Latino and African American communities have taken advantage of. Wireless broadband holds special promise for minorities and the less affluent who tend to lag behind in adopting wired broadband. In the Pew study, it’s noted that “roughly one third of these ‘cell mostly’ Internet users lack a high-speed home broadband connection.”
Specifically, Pew reports:
- 38 percent of Blacks and Latinos go online primarily with their cell phone, compared to 17 percent of whites.
- 40 percent of those with annual incomes below $30,000 are “cell mostly” for Internet, compared to 17 percent for those with incomes over $50,000 a year.
- 42 percent of those under age 30 are in the “cell mostly” group compared to 21 percent for ages 30-49 and 10 percent for Americans aged 50 and above.
With these facts it is quite a stretch to claim that wireless is a “Cyber Ghetto” and wired is Rodeo Drive.
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 it’s not available. And, in some cases, wireless broadband is superior to certain wired broadband offerings in both speed and quality.
Wireless broadband and smartphones 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.
So, the author’s criticisms are sorely misdirected. Telecoms should be praised for bridging the gap while the FCC and the Administration are still trying to figure out the best way to roll out the National Broadband Plan.
Colorlines should really be a part of the solution. The telecoms sure seem to be doing so.