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Let's Use the Technology of Today to Build an Even Better Tomorrow

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As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Black History Month, a diverse array of Americans across the country have the opportunity to join together to reflect and pay tribute to the untold generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in this great society, paving the way for the celebration of multiculturalism we experience here today. Thanks to the transformation led by great black Americans, we have come a long way toward achieving greater equality and social acceptance in this country, yet significant challenges remain. And as we reflect on our past and the great progress that we have made, I feel we have a responsibility to look at where we are today and consider how we can get the tools and technologies of today into the hands of more Americans in order to build an even better tomorrow.

The last few years have been exceptionally difficult on our economy. And although we are starting to see hopeful signs that a recovery could be within our grasp, those of us who are familiar with the state of affairs in America's minority communities know that we still have a long road ahead. Even with national unemployment rates at the lowest level since 2009, the unemployment rate for communities of color remains at an astonishing 17 percent -- with underemployment reportedly as high as 35 percent for minority youths between 18 and 32. And the reality is that minorities who were disproportionately affected when the great recession started erasing jobs will continue to see high rates of unemployment because they are at lower rungs of the job ladder due to a public education system that has ill-prepared minority students with the skill sets necessary to compete and economically prosper in this 21st century. This will continue to be the case, particularly if we can't figure out how to get more minority Americans online.

Despite the essential role of broadband today, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), roughly 80 million American adults do not subscribe to broadband at home while anywhere from 14-24 million Americans still lack broadband Internet access. Low-income Americans in our rural and minority communities continue to lag significantly in broadband adoption, and when you consider that nearly two-thirds of all corporations require resumes to be submitted online, and most colleges and universities require applications to be submitted electronically, this lack of access closes a door on real opportunity for economic advancement and perpetuates a continued cycle of economic isolation.

In order to win our future as the President has challenged us, we need to encourage investment and innovation that will extend new technologies, applications and rich educational content to all Americans -- especially those who have the most to gain. One area that shows great promise is the wireless sector where mobile broadband is playing a key role in bringing minority communities into the digital age. In fact, African Americans and Latinos are currently leading the country in their use of mobile broadband -- so we need to actively work to preserve the future vitality of economic drivers and qualifiers like this, that have shown great promise. I believe this will be a key component to achieving this country's full potential.

Luckily, the president recently launched a National Wireless Initiative that will make it possible for business to extend the next generation of wireless services to 98 percent of all Americans - part of a larger effort to bring everyone into the digital age. Expanding this promising tool will enable businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and public safety officials to access state-of-the-art, secure, nationwide, and interoperable mobile communications at a critical time for this country. Over the next two to three years, every sector in the American economy is going to be impacted by digitalization. We cannot afford to leave anyone behind at this juncture -- particularly those that have traditionally been left behind and now have a chance to break the grip of poverty and achieve their full potential.

The road to full economic recovery presents a unique set of challenges for minority Americans, which requires us to recalibrate the skill sets for those who are currently unemployed or underemployed, particularly as it relates to communication, education, health care, and more. Wireless technologies present a real opportunity to uplift communities that have been economically marginalized since the Reconstruction Era -- both in providing new opportunity and enabling all Americans to access this opportunity. I believe the linchpin to upward mobility is taking advantage of the digital revolution so that we can eliminate income and economic disparities.

I am tremendously proud of black culture in America -- both who we are and where we came from. As we celebrate our rich culture this month, let's also make it a point to look at where we are going. I, for one, am optimistic about the future. I believe that with access to technology -- the wireless tools available to us today, the possibilities are endless -- and that if we work together to get these into the hands of all Americans, in another 10 to 15 years, our young men and women will be the backbone of this evolving digital economy. What a great achievement that will be!

Julius H. Hollis is the CEO of the Alliance for Digital Equality, a non-profit organization that receives funding from a wide array of organizations including those from the telecommunications, energy and entertainment sectors.

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