Last week, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convened in Washington for its annual Legislative Summit to discuss the economic power of Hispanic business in driving America's recovery. Even in today's strained economy, there are about 3 million Hispanic-owned businesses, and Hispanic businesses are the fastest-growing segment of the small-business sector.
Perhaps one of the most effective means to small business opportunity and expansion has been the deployment and availability of high-speed Internet. The Internet has enabled both individuals and businesses to connect virtually, tearing down geographical constraints and allowing for larger customer bases nationally and globally. As mobile broadband increasingly becomes the Hispanic community's primary choice for connecting to the Internet, more advanced and higher-speed networks are driving continued growth and new business models. Mobility has allowed business operations to expand, and in turn have allowed job-creators to be more competitive in the global market - offering goods and services anytime, anywhere.
To continue unleashing the business and social potential enabled by wireless technology, however, depends on making enough "spectrum" available to the mobile providers, so they can keep up with consumer demand and continue to offer high-speed and dependable service at lower costs to producers.
Spectrum is the invisible band of airwaves that carry wireless signals from one place to the other. It enables cell phones and other wireless devices to communicate, and also delivers television to the rooftop antennas that most Americans used before switching to cable. A spectrum auction recently approved by Congress will enable the eventual transfer of some idle spectrum from TV to wireless. But it will take several years to implement and won't provide nearly enough to match consumers' appetite for wireless services, which are expected to double or more each year for the foreseeable future.
One way to address the problem is through so-called "secondary market" sales from companies that aren't using the spectrum they currently have and are willing to sell it to wireless providers for uses that will better serve consumers. Such transfers typically require approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), whose chairman Julius Genachowski has been publicly warning of a spectrum shortage almost since his first day on the job. The FCC can help us all by approving proposed license transfers without delay.
That would be a big win for consumers who would almost certainly see poorer service, slower downloads, and more dropped calls if their wireless company runs out of available spectrum. Resolving the challenge is especially important for Hispanic Americans, who are embracing wireless options at a rapid pace. Large numbers of Hispanics are turning to wireless as their first choice for broadband and also to overcome a lag in access to wired broadband in their homes.
Fewer than half of Hispanic Americans enjoy wired broadband in their homes, compared to more than two-thirds of the general population. However, more Hispanic Americans own cell phones which they use for multiple functions. Whether it's making calls, sending e-mail, texting or connecting to the Net, more and more rely on mobile devices for their communications needs. Hispanic purchasing power in the United States has risen from $212 billion in 1990 to over one trillion dollars today. The market has taken notice, and created gadgets and services that offer everything from mobile healthcare services to practical mobile applications to cutting-edge video. But all of these require sufficient spectrum to operate.
With enough spectrum, America's wireless networks will be able to deliver faster, more reliable broadband and advance digital equality, while also enhancing social and political empowerment. And, thanks to the LTE networks that most wireless providers are now offering, customers can perform almost any type of Internet activity just as well on a mobile device as on a desktop. Obtaining the spectrum needed to keep wireless pushing forward is a cause that should be critical to minority communities - especially the entrepreneurs in those communities.
The jobs potential from wireless is considerable, and of special interest to Hispanic Americans who are suffering from higher unemployment than the national average. A study by economists Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett found that the wireless industry is among our economy's most powerful job engines, creating nearly 1.6 million jobs in its transition to 3G technology. Notably, that employment growth continued through the recession, when total employment in the private sector fell by more than 5 million. What's more, Shapiro and Hassett report that the current transition to 4G wireless service will continue to create jobs - about 230,000 a year for every 10 percentage point gain in 3G and 4G deployment.
In effect, more spectrum for wireless is an economic stimulus program that doesn't require any taxpayer money. It will help create jobs and enable more Americans to enjoy the benefits of the newest breakthroughs in wireless technology. To make it happen, we have to solve our spectrum dilemma with the help of good decisions in Washington.