02/14/2011 08:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Teachings From Our Past and the Opportunities for Our Future

Throughout U.S. history, African Americans have experienced slavery and oppression, widespread racial prejudice and institutional discrimination that have inhibited opportunity. With remarkable courage and tenacity, we fought together and seized opportunity in order to overcome seemingly impossible barriers and achieve the American dream. For our efforts, racial prejudice and discrimination are no longer the greatest barriers to opportunity for most African Americans. However, the battle is not over as disparities in areas like education, health care and employment continue to serve as substantial obstacles for black communities across the country. As we pause this month to reflect on how far we have come as a nation, we must consider the challenges that remain and focus on how to use the tools and technologies available to us today to build upon the very progress that we celebrate during the 35th anniversary of Black History Month.

Despite much progress, there are grave disparities that our country's history of discrimination has left behind and that continue to plague too many of our communities. I believe that the key to advancement however, is well within our reach thanks to the new and innovative technologies at our fingertips. For example, a broadband internet connection enables students in low-income neighborhoods and distant rural regions to take advantage of the same resources as students in the most affluent suburbs. High-speed internet also creates opportunity for underserved, low-income areas by attracting new business and enabling existing businesses to grow and flourish. In addition, internet access offers cost-effective health care solutions for those in urban and rural areas and more options for those without health insurance -- of which a disproportionate number are minorities -- to easily manage their health and gain understanding of their options for care. Being able to tap into the wealth of opportunity offered by broadband provides tremendous benefits that are the key to overcoming the disparities I mentioned. Therefore, as we look forward, we truly need to focus on implementing the National Broadband Plan's goal of delivering equal and affordable broadband access to every American so that we can bring everyone into the digital age -- and ensure that no one is left behind due to cost concerns or lack of accessibility.

We have made some progress already and general broadband adoption rates are rising throughout the nation. But this increase is happening at disproportionate rates among different demographic groups -- perpetuating the above disparities. The Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that whites continue to outpace blacks and Latinos in terms of home broadband adoption, and even though studies have started to show positive trends in adoption and use in the wireless sector, minorities continue to lag behind. This just isn't good enough if we, as a country, want to reach our full potential. We have got to ramp up our efforts to get all Americans online -- a goal that President Obama wholeheartedly supports.

Currently, access isn't the only issue. In fact, many Americans currently have access to either wireline or wireless broadband. However, the cost of computers, affordable broadband access, and lack of digital skills serve as barriers to broadband adoption, even where the service is available. So clearly, we need to figure out targeted ways to overcome these barriers. We need to continue to work together to come up with ways to continue lowering broadband prices as we expand our infrastructure to enable access for all. We also need to facilitate and encourage the digital literacy programs necessary for new adopters to become true users.

In our efforts to achieve 100% broadband, we also need to embrace and encourage the promising wireless trend that I mentioned, especially as innovation continues in the wireless space and new, dynamic devices become more and more attractive, affordable alternatives to fixed broadband solutions. Decisions in Washington should continue to facilitate innovation, as we need to effectively utilize all of the tools in our belt in order to truly move forward and achieve success. I truly believe that we have the opportunity and technologies necessary to overcome the existing disparities that continue to hold this country back from achieving its full potential.

The issues that we face today may be different than those that our ancestors faced years ago, but the resulting inequality is similar indeed. As a result, we must combat disparities that exist with the same vigor and strength. If we do, we can achieve social and economic justice and equity for Africans in America that will strengthen this country for the future.