There seems to be a growing recognition among policymakers that wireless services and
devices are key to "winning the future." In his 2011 State of the Union address, President
Obama outlined his vision for ensuring universal access to high-speed Internet via wireless
networks. Since then, he's been stumping around the country, visiting schools and work places
spreading his message about wireless being the key to America's future.
Just last week, a group of women legislators from around the country echoed the president's
sentiments in their release of Winning the Future: A Policy Framework for Empowering
Women with Broadband. In this report co-authored by the National Organization of Black
Elected Legislative Women and the National Foundation for Women Legislators, several
recommendations are set forth to help ensure that women and children in particular, and the
nation at large generally, are able to be full and active participants in the digital age.
While the report touches on a variety of ways that broadband can enhance family life and
community engagement, as well as health care, education and economic development
opportunities, key to me is the report's focus on promoting wireless access, adoption and use.
As we chart a path toward a more inclusive digital society -- especially at a time when we're
trying to leverage the Internet to create new job training and entrepreneurial opportunities --
we can't stand in the way of progress when it comes to the creation, deployment and use of
wireless technologies. It is incumbent upon policymakers to ensure that wireless technologies
are accessible, and one key component of accessibility is affordability. This is especially true
when we think of ways to best provide high-speed Internet to those who can benefit most from
its use -- members of low-income and underserved communities.
Recent studies have shown that African Americans and Latinos consume wireless services and
devices, smart phones and social networking applications, like Twitter, in greater frequencies
than their non-minority peers. There are many theories as to why this is: Mobility is desirable
because it allows greater flexibility, ease of access and a consistent means of keeping in touch
with people and staying abreast of issues, trends and projects in a more portable, intimate way.
Mobile devices are easier to incorporate into our daily lives, and they provide a more affordable
access option for people who cannot necessarily afford computers, laptops, iPads and the like
on top of a monthly broadband subscription fee.
For this latter group of people for whom mobile access is the only type of Internet access they
can afford, policymakers have an obligation to make sure that their only access point to modern
society remains accessible (i.e. affordable). People should not have to choose between mobile
access and other essentials in life. But, if wireless services are taxed at punitive rates, already
in excess of 19% of a monthly cell phone bill in some states, that's exactly the choice that some
people will have to make. The women legislators got it right -- wireless is crucial to our ability to get all Americans online and actively engaged, and we ought not increase the barriers to entry for this dynamic medium by making wireless access and use more expensive. To win the future with wireless, we must maintain the magic of wireless: its unparalleled accessibility.