By Jason Llorenz, HTTP Executive Director
May 4, 2011
(op-ed originally appears in The Long Island Business News)
The recent announcement from the US Census indicates that America is more diverse than ever, with record numbers of minorities in communities across our country. The fastest growing demographic in 2010 was Hispanics, who are continuing their important and growing contributions to American society.
Our multicultural society means that communication, and the tools that we use to connect online, are becoming increasingly important areas of policy consideration for lawmakers in Washington. Broadband and wireless technology has crossed racial and cultural divides, expanding job markets, connecting families around the world, and improving healthcare and education in underserved areas.
As Hispanic business owners and national policy leaders gathered for an annual conference in Washington, there were countless policy issues addressed, but one of the most prominent topics was the need to spur new job growth in Hispanic communities. Specifically, a portion of the conference was dedicated to the technology and broadband concerns among business owners and Hispanic policy makers – and the growing need to address these remaining gaps in adoption rates for Hispanics.
When lawmakers created the Telecom Act of 1996, the internet was in its infancy, and importantly, was also largely a nonessential communication tool that connected basic computer systems. Today, the internet is vital to virtually every aspect of life, including the health and growth of virtually our entire economy. The ability to create jobs, increase revenue and find new customers are largely dependant on the availability of high-speed internet, both wire line and wireless.
The good news is that since 2003, broadband providers have invested $200 billion to activate and deploy broadband networks across the country. Many of these new regions are in urban or unreached rural areas, ensuring that today some 92 percent of homes in America have access to broadband internet access.
Economists have noted that these investments in the broadband sector have created 400,000 jobs, and in the coming years, experts expect roughly $200 billion in new investment – creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Americans from all backgrounds, including Hispanics, have benefited from this wave of new high-paying, long-term jobs.
The problem is that despite this boom in technology and the strong ties to our economic growth, the laws regulating this technology haven’t changed. We still have outdated taxes and burdensome polices that stand in the way of further growth. Taxes on your cell phone bill, for example, are being levied at a widely varying, and many times, high tax rates – in some cases as high as 16%. And taxes on “digital goods”, such as iTunes and downloaded software, are often double and triple taxed by multiple states.
Policy makers and business leaders from around the country are beginning to recognize the importance of a surge in minority-owned high tech small businesses. But with a policy framework from the mid-1990’s, our regulations and policies are painfully outdated and are hindering our ability to innovate and expand.
The more that Washington policy makers can do to ensure new pro-growth policies in complex areas like spectrum and digital goods, the more we can ensure a prosperous high-tech future for Hispanics and all Americans.
Jason A. Lorenz, Esq. is Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP).