Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to rely on technology in new ways, change and innovation were reshaping the way we live our lives as individuals and communities. Smart cities and new technologies devoted to creating “smart regions” are taking innovation to new heights and transforming the delivery and efficiency of public services, including creating new ways for residents to engage with city government and elected officials. Our increasing reliance on technology during the pandemic has created an even stronger consensus that making online services accessible for everyone must be a national priority.
Cities should be designed to sustainably improve the quality of life for every resident and every neighborhood. Cities have a role to play in making the tools and training to secure those jobs available to everyone. Accessible and affordable broadband that leaves no community behind is essential to achieving so many of the goals that modern cities set out to achieve. American broadband companies have made massive investments in expanding the infrastructure needed to support new applications that are enhancing delivery of a wide range of public and private services across virtually every sector, including city needs related to transportation, water and electric service, law enforcement, healthcare and more.
To date, Congress has provided billions of dollars in support for broadband deployment and affordability. The infrastructure bill currently before Congress would provide billions more in additional funding to bring the benefits of broadband to more people and communities—both urban and rural—that are otherwise at risk of being left behind. These substantial funding commitments from the federal government promise to bring connectivity to our country’s unserved communities, ensure that economically disadvantaged communities are able to connect, and encourage greater adoption by prioritizing digital literacy, training and education opportunities. However, this once in a generation funding opportunity must be deployed wisely; otherwise, the benefits of our modern-day smart cities and connected communities will not be enjoyed by many, but instead only reserved for the select few.
Prioritizing digital equity and inclusion for all communities is critical for this federal funding to have the most impact. All communities must be at the table throughout the development and implementation process to help ensure equitable rollout of next generation wireless and wireline technologies. Significantly, public officials and community anchor institutions have an important role to play to ensure that their residents have the digital skills necessary to be successful in today’s emerging and evolving, digital economy. This includes supporting and implementing policies that support digital literacy, the importance of broadband connectivity, STEM education and workforce development opportunities that ensure schoolchildren and workers are being trained on key technology skills. To do otherwise will increase the likelihood that the benefits of enhanced broadband funding for deployment and adoption will go to a small subset of our communities.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, we celebrated the contributions of Latinos in American communities, culture, and economic life. We must also commit to closing the digital divide and other barriers that prevent many Latinos from benefiting from the educational, economic and health benefits that technology can bring. This is not only important to Latinos; it is essential for our future as a nation. According to Census data, more than 62 million Latinos lived in the U.S. in 2020. The number of Latino business owners grew faster than any other ethnic group in the decade before COVID-19 hit, but they were hit hard by the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic. Stanford University has reported that Latinos are more likely to start their own businesses, but that those businesses face barriers that limit their success. In the long term, the economy as a whole will suffer if these entrepreneurs do not have the tools to help themselves and their communities thrive.
Our future as a country will depend on how well we ensure that Latino students, workers, families, and business owners are fully equipped to contribute to our progress. Creating inclusive connected communities that help Latinos and every other community thrive will move us together into a more prosperous future.