iversity in STE A M www.diversityinsteam.com
he COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a deep digital divide in the United States. The surge in bandwidth demand peaked when huge sectors of the population stayed home. In the minority community, however, connectivity has been limited or inaccessible. Systemic barriers persist. The lack of broad- band access, connectivity and equity are mostly due to cost and affordability. According to Pew Research, Americans with household income below $30,000 - mostly from mi- nority communities - lack home broadband services and are more likely to not own a smartphone or computer. When the pandemic hit, more than 15 million stu- dents without broadband access were disconnected from remote instruction. The Biden administrations planned $65 billion investment in Americas broadband infrastruc- ture and services deployment will be transformative. It will boost connectivity among underserved groups. It will create jobs and businesses across industries in the telecom ecosystem. This sunrise sector will drive the national econ- omy in the post-pandemic world. In early October 2021, I was asked to host and organize two panel discussions at the national conference in Florida by the Wire- less Infrastructure Association (WIA). The first session tackled the challenges faced by minority communities and how they could become valued partners in the wireless industrys supply chain. In the second panel, we talked about the role of women in the telecom industry and how their participation could be improved. Both discussions were substantive, revealing how far minority and
Connectivity and Minority Communities in the Post-Pandemic World
by Susan Au Allen USPAACC National President & CEO
diverse groups have progressed - and how much work still needs to be done. While I was at the conference, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) called and invited me to serve as a Vice Chair of the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (CEDC). I have been serving as a member of the FCCs Federal Advisory Commit- tee on Digital and Diversity Em- powerment (renamed to CEDC) since 2017. In this new leadership role, I will be one of a 3-person leader- ship team and with the support of an experienced FCC professional staff, manage the work of the CEDC. There will be about 35 Council members and 35 Working Group members. Together, they will be organized into three Work- ing Groups each led by its own Lead. The Working Groups will be Innovation and Access , Digital Empowerment and Inclusion and Diversity and Equity. Indeed, it will be both an honor and a privilege to lead a group of industry leaders from government, corporation, professional and nonprofit organizations to advise and make recommendations to the FCC about federal policies on telecommunication matters. I have given this invitation serious thought and have since accepted the new appointment. What I have learned from these serendipitous developments is that we are at an inflection point - a unique moment to help rebuild the economy. For the underserved minority communities, connectivity means increased economic development, enhanced educational opportu- nities, greater income potential through more job prospects, lower unemployment rates, reduced vulnerabilities in health and food security and so much more. This will be our path forward as we seek to bridge the digital divide. One thing is clear: Broadband is no longer an option or a luxury - it is now a necessity. We need digi- tal connectivity for our education, work, business and lifestyle to thrive. This will also safeguard the readiness of the next generation of Americans to be competitive in the global marketplace. Focus on different upskilling pathways to address the skills gaps of employers in hi-tech industries, including the telecom sector. Ensure that minorities are at the center of the innovation economy and included in future-proof jobs in the STEM-related space. The challenges are surmount- able. Let us harness this momen- tum to demonstrate that ubiquitous connectivity guarantees workforce and business development, as long as every individual has equal access - regardless of ethnicity, gender, or income level. This is how we secure our nations eco- nomic recovery and resurgence in the post-pandemic world.