By: Gregory A. Cendana
Internet access can no longer be thought of as a technological indulgence. Policymakers need to recognize that broadband and high-speed wireless internet are vital parts of America’s infrastructure. With essential public programs that advance opportunities for working families and communities on the line, the inclusion of internet access as part of the broader conversation around infrastructure and job creation could be key to reducing the digital divide.
People without internet access are put at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to their peers, in everything from education and health to entertainment and shopping. But most especially, they are at a disadvantage when it comes to economic opportunities. Even though, overall, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are among the most connected when it comes to technology and the internet, the huge wealth and income disparities within different AAPI ethnic groups cannot be ignored. From 2007 to 2011, the number of AAPI poor increased by 38%, representing more than half a million people.
Struggling AAPI folks in communities nationwide need jobs. But creating the right jobs is important. The union companies investing in broadband infrastructure are helping create the kind of forward-looking, well-paying jobs upon which APALA members depend, as do their families and communities. In fact, worker wages in the telecom industry are 20–30% higher than average for the economy as a whole, meaning these jobs are part of a strong middle class.
Voters in November expressed their need for jobs. So, if policymakers actually want to create good-paying, future-ready jobs in the private sector, they should consider how to best incentivize and partner with providers to spur broadband deployment while ensuring accountability and putting the interests of communities first.
One promising approach is the creation of “gigabit opportunity zones” to get broadband to the people who need it most. Notable proposed legislation could provide tax incentives to companies that build high-speed networks to low-income and rural communities. Such broadband-friendly policies will speed up broadband build-out that is so essential to local economies. Accelerating deployment of innovative networks are key to economic opportunity and job creation.
With the potential to reduce the digital divide that affects communities of color and low-income families, opportunities for internet access should be extended to everyone. As I’ve stated before, the actions of lawmakers and regulators have a definitive role in widespread access to information and by extension in curbing already widening socioeconomic disparities for our diverse communities. In an increasingly digital, electronic, and interconnected world, accessing the internet through high-speed connections is a necessity, especially for workers and our AAPI community.
Gregory A. Cendana is the first openly gay and youngest-ever Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement.