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.

How much are cultural mores impacting broadband adoption

Standing in a line at the bank yesterday (I know, I know. Standing in a line at a bank is so 2G), I overheard two African Americans talking about Facebook and Twitter. One individual was a female apparently in her late 60s; the other a male in his mid-forties. They were sharing their observations about young people were so connected to and buy these two social networks.

What struck me was their conclusion that today’s technology was a sign of the end of times. I rarely discuss religion, but the discussion raised the issue in my mind as to whether religious views may be hindering adoption?

The bank conversation harkened me back to a sermon delivered in my hometown church back around 1979 where the pastor, a man I have the most utmost respect, love, and admiration for, made a similar comment about a satellite that was expected to crash in Australia. In a rare moment of bravery (given that my favorite cartoon hero is Courage the Cowardly Dog, my acts of bravery are rare), I raised my hand in the middle of the sermon and told him that he was wrong. I said it was not the end of the world and briefly explained the science behind it.

Since I’m writing this post, it’s obvious that I lived to tell the tale. Seriously though, if a certain segment of our community is taking a fatalistic view toward technology, won’t that make the technology harder to adopt?

Esperanza Spaulding, cell phones, and airplanes

Two technological achievements amaze me still to this very day: airplanes and cell phones. I’ve often said I’d rather be in the cockpit of a Cessna flying from Frederick to Baltimore rather than driving five minutes to the grocery store. It’s a lot safer and saner in the air.

The telephone also amazes me. I still look at it as two cans connected by a string, but with a bunch of electronics that help to boost the signal. Cell phones are even more amazing, but in the end are merely suped up radios. When you look at the history of cell phones and airplanes, their early uses share a common thread: productivity.

Both technologies were developed and promoted to make commerce easier. While one technology carried mail and business passengers, the other carried voice messages. Today the cell phone can do much more than carry voice messages, but as an article by the Associated Press’ Jesse Washington points out, minorities are not doing much with today’s 4G technology except for entertaining ourselves.

Mr. Washington described how African Americans and Latinos appear not to be using mobile technology for productive purposes, placing a greater emphasis on video games and social networks. It’s too bad, especially given the Obama administration’s push to build out our digital infrastructure. It’s part of his winning the future vision.

But if we are to out-compete, out-build, and out-innovate in order to get our economy moving again, I think that all portions of the population will have to focus on the substance of commerce and creation. So far I haven’t come across much of any policies designed to inspire a productive mindset versus the uber-focus on consumption.

Entertainment is good. It’s fun. Just ask Justin Bieber. But given the state of joblessness, and the restructuring of the workplace and its needs, I’d prefer some of Esperanza Spaulding’s depth right about now.

Access is up but is it access that is productive?

Posted August 25th, 2010 in African Americans, Broadband, Hispanics and tagged , , , by Alton Drew

One possible reason for the increase in broadband access in African American households may have to do with the mode through which African Americans access broadband content. According to Pew Research Center, 64% of African Americans use cell phones or lap tops for broadband access compared to 59% of all American adults.

This may be sufficient for content providers who are only concerned that we can download a ring tone or catch up on whether Victor and Nikki are going to get back together again on The Young and the Restless.

I am more concerned about economic development and empowerment. For all its hype, the Internet’s service to our community remains limited if we cannot extract some value beyond mere entertainment and consumption.

As the high level of unemployment continues to linger in the black and Latino communities, we will need greater access to broadband options that provide greater and more secure bandwidth capabilities. It’s difficult to send out Excel spreadsheets or create blogs over a cell phone.