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Why Plugging Into Tech Equals Business Opportunities

Broadband session sparks conversation about digital business development and job creation

Actor Jeffrey Wright shares his thoughts during the AT&T panel

Months back, MMTC, along with the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, League of United Latin American Citizens and the Sierra Club, put its full weight behind supporting the proposed merger. In comments presented to the FCC, Honig stressed his organization took this unprecedented action because it can benefit minority consumers by “alleviating the spectrum crunch and narrowing the digital divide”; minority telecom workers by bolstering AT&T’s diversity hiring practices; and minority broadband entrepreneurs since AT&T is an industry leader in procurement. The company was also seeking to include more minority entrepreneurs in spectrum auctions in which licenses are sold to enable operators to transmit signals. AT&T is one of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s 40 Best Companies for Diversity.

Simmons, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a broad-based coalition that promotes expansion of broadband availability and mobile connectivity, maintained that expanding minorities’ connection to the Internet would be consistent with the goals held by President Obama and the FCC to ensure full deployment of the next-generation (4G) mobile broadband networks across the nation to increase “continued economic prosperity and individual empowerment.”

Beside reviewing issues related to the merger, panelists also dealt with the paradox of the growing cell phone and Internet usage by African Americans but failure of that participation to be used for commercial benefit.

So what were proposed solutions to reverse the trend? Here are some of the  recommendations:

  • Use the Internet as a tool for entrepreneurship. Jamal Simmons says Black business owners must tap into the power of the Internet as a means of product distribution.  In fact, he says entrepreneurs can transform brick-and-mortar operations into “digital storefronts.” He points to the example of Shane & Shawn, whose founders of the shoe manufacturer appeared on the cover of the January 2007 issue of BLACK ENTERPRISE. The company has generated more Web-based revenue than sales from their store in downtown New York. “Now they have found great success by moving their entire operation to the Internet,” he says. Other retailers should  follow suit.
  • Develop innovative content to educate consumers. Paul McRae, vice president of public sector and healthcare for AT&T, says expansion of broadband access can prove invaluable in providing “E-healthcare information and services.” The same approach can be applied to employment retraining and business development.
  • Robert Townsend believes content can serve as an empowerment vehicle in the digital medium: “We can use entertainment as a driver. Celebrity is sexy.”  In partnership with One Economy Corp., a non-profit advocating broadband expansion and tech training in  low-income communities, the veteran director produced the online drama, Diary of a Single Mom. The program, which reaches 700,000 users and features stars like Monica Calhoun, Richard Roundtree and Billy Dee Williams, deals with topics such as diabetes treatment, credit management and housing. As characters tackle these issues, viewers can access real-time, Web-based information and resources.
  • Create partnerships to expand pipeline. Roundtable members agreed partnerships among business, government, academia and entertainment will be needed to move the needle. For instance, Ava Parker, chairman of Board of Governors for the State University of Florida, says educational institutions can facilitate creation of the pipeline of workers and business owners through STEM education and tech retraining programs. In fact, Parker, AT&T representatives and I seek to have HBCUs and their alumni networks play a large role in this initiative.

The aforementioned represent a few strategies from this productive session. Now, we must hold follow up conversations with our roundtable as well as groups like Black Innovation and Competitiveness Initiative, which I have written about in previous Power Moves blogs.

We must use technology as our great equalizer.

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