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MMTC to present range of issues impacting spectrum and minorities

In preparation of an article for Politic365.com, yesterday I had the most insightful conversation with the co-founder and president of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council David Honig. Entry into the media marketplace by members of the minority community is a top priority of the MMTC. For this reason, the MMTC is hosting tomorrow a forum on the spectrum crunch and how this crisis in the airwaves will impact minority communities.

We are hitting a wall on spectrum, Mr. Honig said to me and it’s going to have an impact on minority consumers and entrepreneurs. For consumers we’ll probably see degradation in services, particularly more dropped calls. As spectrum, like any resource, becomes scarcer, we’ll probably see higher prices. One can argue that all consumers, no matter their race, will see price increases, but for minorities there may be a greater negative incidence from an increase in cell phone rates.

For example, Black unemployment is around 13.8%, much higher than the national average of 8.3%. According to the Pew Research Council, White median household wealth is around $113,149 compared to Black household wealth of $5,677. The average income for Black households is $44,780 compared with White households who have an average income of $73,439.

Hispanics households, while having average household income of $51,540, have a household wealth of $6,325, according to Pew Research. The unemployment rate for Hispanics is also above the national average at 10.5%.

For minority entrepreneurs attempting to mitigate the damage of the last recession via self employment, entering the broadband, telecommunications or media markets with little equity or capital makes success even harder. Facing increasing spectrum’s increasing factor cost of production only adds to the burden.

Given MMTC’s knowledge and expertise with broadband and spectrum issues, the forum should provide attendees with great and useful policy insights.

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Will minorities benefit if the FCC lets the market work?

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s Latoya Livingston wrote an insightful blog post on how increasing available spectrum can help entry into the digital economy. Check out her post here.

Ms. Livingston’s article raises two important points. One, why is the FCC afraid of allowing a market strategy such as consolidation do the work that it is not equipped to do? Second, why does the FCC not recognize that growth in the wireless sector does not necessarily mean having a certain number of carriers in the sector?

If you want wireless services produced and distributed at lower costs, you need to allow for scale whenever possible. As wireless services improve with the additional spectrum, entrepreneurs will bring innovative products that enhance the use of wireless networks.

It’s okay to let the market stumble and find itself. We can’t afford to have the FCC trying to hold the industry’s hand every step of the way.

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From broadband access to digital efficacy

My mom got her first computer a few weeks ago. She sent her first e-mail a couple days ago. Yes, at 68 she is now a pedestrian in cyberspace.

I descend from a line of merchants, with my very first memory having been in my great aunt’s store in the Irishtown section of Basseterre, St. Kitts. My mother worked in that store as well. From time to time the old merchant in her will spring an idea as to how best to put her capital to work. I have no doubt that she will eventually go through the same thought process as she learns how to use her lap top.

My nine-year old son is following his ancestors’ footsteps. The word “career” flows out of his mouth easily and probably more often than most teenage and twenty-something knuckleheads I see running around these days. With a “low on minutes” cell phone to their ear and pants low on their waists, young people today appear to be carrying on the same silly, consumer centric behavior of their parents and grandparents, only this time in digital form.

When I think about the level of unemployment we minorities face in this country and the poor performance of our gross domestic product, all I can conclude is that we have to pursue a different mindset. We are, in the words of my sister, addicted to a narrative that we just can’t seem to shake.

Writing for the MMTC’s Broadband and Social Justice blog, Ava Parker posted a piece that highlights the fork in the road consumers of digital technology now face. Do we continue with a mindset focused primarily on consuming communications and entertainment, or do we start turning our mobile information access terminals into productive capital and use this capital to create another source of equity; equity that allows us to weather the next financial or economic crisis.

Media Matters for America misses the minority consumer welfare argument

A blog post on Media Matters for America’s website spent so much time emphasizing an alleged and tenuous conflict of interest involving Henry Rivera and AT&T that it completely missed the very significant issue of what a failure to approve AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile USA would mean to minority access to the Internet.

Pew Research found that while 59% of adult Americans go online via wireless devices, blacks and Latinos are more likely to own a cell phone (87%) versus whites (80%). In addition, 64% of African Americans and 63% of Latinos access the Internet via wireless devices.

This data supports Mr. Rivera’s view that AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile should be approved. Since T-Mobile is not in a position to expand its 4G network, blacks and Latinos would not enjoy the benefits of expanded 4g coverage, at least in the short run.

National Council on Negro Women: The reason why our sistas are the backbone of our broadband family

The National Council on Negro Women expressed their support for AT&T’s bid to purchase T-Mobile USA. The civil rights group expressed that it was important that underserved minority communities get online access to healthcare, education, and career resources. Should we be denied access to these services because of capacity issues? Opponents of the transaction seem to think so.

Were it not for groups like the National Council on Negro Women, there would be no one to vigorously address the issue of the digital divide. The only thing I hear from Sprint, Free Press, and Public Knowledge is the usual paranoid ranting of why AT&T being big is supposed to be bad for everyone.

Opponents never make a case for why allowing T-Mobile USA to eventually go out of business would be good for solving the digital divide issue. They never argue why denying the purchase will help make spectrum available in rural or underserved urban areas.

Groups like the National Council on Negro Women are properly tying the social justice arguments with the economic arguments that support the acquisition. Public Knowledge, on the other hand, would rather scare people into believing that there is going to be some horrific change from the current market structure to something so utterly gruesome that it will be Armageddon for consumers.

What are we going to see after the sale is closed? The very same market structure that exists today; an oligopoly.

So kudos to the National Council on Negro Women for seeing past the smoke and mirrors of the opponents’ arguments.