By Mia Jones, Florida State Representative, District 14
In 1963, many of us joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in sharing a dream of a future where our children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. While Dr. King dreamed of a day when children of all colors could attend the same school or share a table at lunch, in 2013 we dream of a day when all Americans will be welcomed into the new world of digital media through the pathway of high speed broadband.
Our struggle, half a century ago, was not so different from what we face today, although the battlefield has changed dramatically. At a time where everything from education to career placement to healthcare relies so heavily on broadband access and telecom literacy, our struggle now is to close the digital divide and secure the inalienable rights to technology that so many take for granted.
Affordable wireless connections have enabled millions of African Americans and lower income families to go online. Minority broadband adoption at home remains near fifty percent, but thanks to its affordability and mobility, we have set the bar for the rest of the nation with almost 90 percent minority adoption of wireless.
As a result more and more communities are becoming connected to distance learning initiatives, seeking medical care through telemedicine, becoming actively engaged in civic affairs, and finding or improving their careers through Internet based searches and training.
With so many consumers abandoning their old wireline phone services in favor of mobile services, in addition to fiber and cable-based VoIP service, many in the communications industry are looking to retire outdated copper phone lines and replace them with high-speed, IP-based networks able to handle voice, video and data traffic, expanding service way beyond 20th Century voice-only communications..
The FCC’s National Broadband Plan calls the transition to an all-IP network, “the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st Century.” We at the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) understand the importance of transition to IP, as well as the complex issues and difficult questions that come along with it. That is why we are encouraging FCC Chairman Genachowski and his fellow commissioners to establish market trials to resolve the operational, technical and policy issues associated with the IP transition through an open and transparent process.
In 1976, when the U.S. government first recognized Black History Month, President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black American in every endeavor throughout our history.”
Today, we urge those African Americans who have the ability to access broadband service to seize the opportunity to better their own lives and the lives of their families and communities. To those who don’t have access at home or through a wireless connection, we ask you to seek out a local library or community center where broadband service is offered so that you too can join the digital revolution and begin to utilize all the resources made available through the Internet.
Dr. King once said, “Today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
If Dr. King were still with us today, he would be proud of the changes America has made over the decades. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing his dream has been entirely realized. The IP transition will challenge us intellectually because it does represent significant change on so many levels. To achieve a successful transition for the benefit of all Americans, it will require providers, carriers, government officials and consumers to work together. But as our parents and grandparents did before us, we must persevere. We must continue to pursue the digital dream – The Dream 2.0.