Redefining Opportunity: Latinos
and Broadband Access

Without a doubt, I am a living testament to the American Dream. From one of sixteen children raised by migrant farm workers to running the fourth largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States, I am very familiar with the term opportunity.

Today, opportunity is no less important, but the demographics and dynamics are different than when I was young. Latinos today are not only the fastest growing segment of the population, but also the youngest population group in the United States. The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates that one in five school children in the United States are Latino.

Loosely translated, this means that, for better or worse, the country’s future is tied to our Latino community---our successes and our failures. And this is where defining what the term “opportunity” for this era becomes so critical. Today, in many ways, opportunity hinges on one’s ability to access broadband and make real, meaningful connections. I would argue that in today’s information age, “opportunity” is epitomized by a community’s access to broadband internet.

Access to broadband internet, and the lack thereof, is one of the single most important issues facing our country. While that may sound like a dramatic statement when you consider the War on Terror and our flagging economy, the truth is that access to broadband internet provides infinite possibilities for entrepreneurship, research and education. If not for the development of broadband, I would not be in the position to continually hire and employ staff across the country. Likewise, I know that as a result of our rapid growth many of our vendors are small start up companies. It is plain and simple that the private investment in the development and deployment of broadband creates jobs and is good for the economy.

A March 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center stated that “online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, business, non-profits and other mainstream institutions.” The internet has become such an integral part of our day-to-day lives that many of us often wonder how we survived before we had fast, reliable access to the internet. Access to email, my calendar, contacts and the ability to execute quick research can make or break my day, and even my business.

The serious concerns over the digital divide that exists in this country, especially in the Latino community ought to be common knowledge. The digital divide is the gap that exists between populations that have access to computers and reliable internet and those that do not. The digital divide is a permanent fixture in public policy debates that surround the internet, broadband and even net neutrality, and reaching consensus on these issues can seem a Herculean task.

However, the one thing everyone can agree on is that the best way to bridge the digital divide and present more opportunity is the full scale implementation of the National Broadband Plan. This was a 2009 mandate by Congress to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “to ensure every American has access to broadband capability”. Congress laid out this mandate because it recognized that access to broadband is a “foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life”. I would argue that this type of foundation is most important for Latinos as the fastest growing segment of the population in the United States.

According to the Pew Hispanic Research Center’s report Latinos Online 2006-2008: Narrowing the Gap, 76% of Latinos with home internet had a broadband connection. Now this may sound like a lot, and indeed, there has been steady improvement in this number, but 82% of whites had a broadband connection at home by comparison. These numbers become problematic when you put it in “real world” scenarios. Essentially, this means that only 76% of Latinos in the United States have access to fast, reliable information on job, business and educational information and opportunities. This is not a good prospect for, not only the Latino community, but also the nation’s economy.

By focusing on the importance of access to broadband to all citizens, the National Broadband Plan provides one of the best vehicles for opportunity for the Latino community. And, one of the most certain ways to achieve the National Broadband Plan’s lofty goals is through significant private investment. Creating an environment that spurs private investment in the infrastructure and technology so vital to bringing broadband internet access to every American, will ensure the 21st Century American Dream is in reach for Latinos---and, really all Americans. Our ability to advance, achieve the fabled American Dream and ensure that our children’s lives are better than ours hinges on bringing fast, reliable broadband internet across these United States.

John Goodman is the Co-founder, Chairman, and CEO of Goodman Networks, a leading telecommunications services company.