The powers that be at the National Urban League believe that they have the solution to the digital racial gap.
Last week, NUL announced what they claim to be a “comprehensive strategy” to make Black America as technologically literate as white America. Named the Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion, NUL wants all Black Americans, rich or poor, to have easy access to broadband and devices/tablets that can help them bridge the gap. The gap, according to the report, plays a role in financial and educational inequalities.
Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said that the past year has exposed America’s financial divide, employment divide and digital divide.
“COVID-19 exposed, in a profound way, how deep the digital divide is in the United States,” Morial said. “Children being able to learn from home. Who’s able and not able to work from home. And as we’ve seen, now it affects people’s ability to access appointments for the vaccine. It was a driver of the urgency [of this plan].
Inspired by Lewis Howard Latimer (who was born into slavery and became a 19th century draftsman, soldier, scientist and researcher and helped Alexander Graham Bell on the development of telephones and Thomas Edison on electric lighting), the plan calls for the Federal Communication Commission and the Department of Commerce to take another look at areas without easy access to broadband, create subsidies needed to address the digital gap, and eliminate all restrictions that disqualify who can deliver service. Both departments would collect the appropriate information needed to address it.
The plan specifically wants to address the Availability Gap (those unable to via broadband due to lack of service), the Adoption Gap (where those who have access to broadband who aren’t subscribed to a broadband service), the Affordability Gap (where those without subscriptions are struggling to adopt a service), and the Access to Economic Opportunity Gap (where people without the aforementioned are shut out of the digital economy).
According to consumer watchdog group BroadBandNow, as of December 2020, municipal broadband, in which the city or local area provides its own broadband to the people, is banned or suffered roadblocks in 22 states. The reports also state that states without restrictions enjoyed higher access to low-priced broadband plans on average. Low-priced plans, by BroadBandNow’s standard, are $60 or less.
But Morial wants to make sure race isn’t forgotten within those stats.
“The digital divide has a racial dynamic to it,” said Morial. “There are people in the country who believe that these issues aren’t important. This is not easy because one of the big issues with digital inequity is affordability. Home computers cost money. Tablets cost money. Broadband costs money.”
The Plan also calls for the Department of Commerce and the FCC to collect information that evaluates how the private sector is improving diversity, inclusion and equity. These include the government establishing an Office of Digital Equity to coordinate training and restructuring the FCC’s Lifeline Program which subsidizes communication services for low-income people.
Blair Levin, nonresident senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, said the divide is a perfect demonstration of how knowledge equals power.
“Millions of Americans enjoy the access to information, entertainment and commerce that broadband provides,” stated Levkin. “But the unfortunate reality is that communities that lack access to broadband are the ones who could benefit from it the most. Our leaders need to step up and address the gaps that are holding back large segments of the population.”
“Not having a Chromebook in 2021 is like not having a textbook in 1970,” Morial said. “The truth is if we eliminated the digital divide, Black people will be represented in tech sector jobs. Black people would have meaningful and substantial opportunities to do business in the tech sector.
“And that would be a start.”