Last week I attended a meeting of Latino business leaders, convened by the White House, to discuss how the broadband industry can grow the jobs of the future in the Latino community.
We often hear about an emerging skills gap in America and the urgent need for more graduates in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Business leaders recognize that to help address this challenge, particularly in the technology sector, broadband Internet access is a priority. Another key to growing a technology-skilled workforce is tackling the broadband adoption gap in the Latino community. NTIA’s research shows that only 57 percent of Hispanic households had broadband service in 2010, which significantly lags behind the national rate. Even when adjusting for socioeconomic factors, like income and education, Hispanic households still trail White households in broadband adoption by 11 percentage points.
To encourage the next generation of computer programmers and information technology workers – and to help today’s workers better compete – broadband access at home and in schools is a vital first step. To help tackle this issue, NTIA is vigorously overseeing approximately 230 broadband projects nationwide. These projects, funded by the Recovery Act, are deploying new and upgraded broadband networks, extending broadband access to schools and other community anchor institutions, upgrading and expanding public computer centers, and providing free computer and job training for residents.
Many of these projects are targeted at Latino communities and addressing the root causes of the digital divide by demonstrating the relevance of broadband – for example, by engaging parents in their children’s academic progress online – and by providing more affordable broadband service and equipment to those who have completed training. While these projects are making a difference in communities nationwide, there is more to be done.
At yesterday’s meeting, participants from the business community provided their insights on effective solutions. For example, IT and software developers discussed the importance of building online trust with the Latino community, since privacy concerns are a barrier to broadband adoption. Broadcasters emphasized the importance of content that is relevant to Latinos. I heard about public-private initiatives that are training young Latinos in those much-needed technology skills. And an entrepreneur emphasized the need for additional spectrum to support mobile broadband, which Latino families are adopting more rapidly than other households to access the Internet.
Of course business leaders understand that bridging the digital divide is not only good for Latinos and others lagging in broadband adoption, but also good for U.S. businesses and economic growth. By leveraging the talents of all our people, and building a stronger workforce, America can best compete in the global 21st century economy.