Colorlines Hit Job on Wireless: Not Part of the Solution

Colorlines Hit Job on Wireless: Not Part of the Solution


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.


  1. It's irresponsible for a legit journalist or news outlet to crank out puff pieces that amount to propaganda. That's what advertising's for.

    At this point in time wireless broadband represents just an entry point for high-speed Internet service; a bare-bones solution. And of its various topologies — satellite, Wi-Fi/WiMAX, and terrestrial cellular telephony — the mobile telcos provide the slowest data speeds with inferior quality-of-sservice for the least capable devices. They don't offer much savings dollar-wise or in terms of real value compared to fixed-wire plans. Partially because the mobile telcos have been able to manipulate the market in their favor, competing technologies have developed more slowly and the result has adversely affected already underserved markets. The Colorlines article is correct in describing the environment as a cyber ghetto, for there remains a considerable digital divide in place.

    It's also quite irresponsible to suggest these private companies are performing a public service. They're not giving the services away! They're motivated by profit, period. They invest the minimum amount possible toward maximizing their earnings.

  2. Puff piece? Nonsense.

    This article simply points out the obvious.

    Wireless is not fixed wire — and it does not have the capacity of wired Internet (there is not enough spectrum available).

    Yes it is a business, not a public service. But look at it this way — where would many Americans be without wireless?

    They’d be waiting for high-priced wired Internet to be extended to their neighborhoods, one of these days.

    Wireless is the point of access that millions of Americans prefer and use. More competition might be helpful — but there is much more competition among wireless providers than among the wired side, which is often granted market monopolies.

    The wireless industry is pushing access to every corner of urban and rural America. That’s good for all — and a great economic equalizer.

    By comparison, what has the wired providers done for access? Not much.

    • "Wireless is not fixed wire…"

      No kidding?

      There's always going to be a finite amount of spectrum available for wireless communications at any given point in time. However, the space can be used more efficiently as new technological developments are spurred (primarily) by market competition. As I mentioned earlier 'wireless' describes Wi-Fi, WiMAX, satellite and cellular telephony. Of the four technologies, cellular telephony is the least capable but benefits from a U.S. regulatory environment that cedes mobile telcos a considerable advantage through lax enforcement. In fact, our entire telecom sector isn't competitive; mobile telcos are owned by what remains of old 'fixed-wire' RBOCs and cable companies, like AT&T and Verizon. The result is a bad deal for American consumers and the economy.

      In dismissing Colorlines' piece as a "hit job" on the wireless industry, Ms. Barnette not only ignored various facts that didn't jibe with her CTIA-fed talking points, she suggested mobile telephony represents the totality of wireless technology. It's for these reasons why her opinion isn't credible.

  3. Mr. Tucker, I agree wholeheartedly. Every article on telecom spews the same "affinity groupspeak". I don't know why I keep reading. Really, I keep reading hoping some young lion or lioness will have a breakthrough or at least stop regurgitating myths. I think these writers have been duped (or not) about what the "public good" is.

  4. I am a hard-working African American mother and cannot afford to have both wired internet access and my mobile phone. I had to make a choice. I chose my phone. With my phone I have access to the internet, thousands of free apps, I have access to navigational devices, I have access to books, email, news, weather, and I have access to my children.

  5. "I am not what you call me, but what I answer to…" (This is my mom's favorite saying). And you can call me a "Cyber Ghetto" user if you want, but I use my wireless smartphone and other wireless devices more than I use my wired computer and I make a very good living, even live in a nice neigborhood (although not quite Rodeo Drive!). Thank goodness I'm able to work from my phone. Ghetto? Not hardly!!!

  6. Okay, here we go! The only corporate-fed jargon that I see is coming from Wm_Tucker. There is no way any regular ole user of wireless would spit fire about wireless unless they were working for wired internet. The benefits of wireless (all forms of wireless) are just too many to even talk about, how could you not see it?

  7. After reading the Colorlines article, I was disappointed at the turn it took, which was a poorly veiled attempt at defending net neutrality. The "cyber-ghetto" mentioned in the article is an apt description of the digital divide.

    It's not merely about access anymore. As Ms. Barnette points out, smart phones and other devices allow for wireless access to the Internet. I do agree with other commentators that wireless access is more expensive than fixed wireline.

    The greater cost, however, is the lost opportunities to create, package, and distribute content that can be sold to generate revenues and income. Applying for jobs, writing columns, or producing schematics simply is not possible on a smartphone.

  8. […] Politic365 ran an article this week which responds to a previous article which focused on wireless broadband creating a new digital divide.  The original article, Colorlines, contends that smartphones and mobile broadband service from wireless companies are creating two Internets.  In addition, the article argues that wireless Internet is the “Cyber Ghetto” because minorities are more likely to rely on the service for digital access and that it is inheritably inferior to wired service.  Not only is this view incorrect, it negatively affects the pursuit of reducing the real digital divide – which is between those who have regular access to the Internet and those who don’t. […]