A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver the “High Tech Policy” luncheon keynote at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s 5th Annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit in Washington, DC.
With this year’s conference theme, “Bridging the Gap: Infrastructure, Education, & Equity in the Digital Economy,” as inspiration, I used this platform to discuss the wealth divide – and specifically how the technological revolution can help to bridge that divide. We have discussed much about income inequality – and it is a deserving topic that we must continue to address. But we have confronted the problem of the wealth divide to a much lesser degree. If the income divide is a river, I liken the wealth divide to an ocean.
Consider the results of our 2013 State of Black America report, which found that the median wealth for Blacks was just under $5000, while the median wealth for whites was more than $110,000. Our Equality Index, on a scale of 100, showed a disappointing and disturbing Black-White wealth index of 4%.
The build-out of the telecommunications and broadband infrastructure has proven to be a major driver of American investment and job creation, and the economics of it can help close both income and wealth gaps. According to a report released by The White House last June, since 2009, almost $250 billion in private capital has been invested in U.S. wired and wireless broadband networks, and the annual investment in U.S. wireless networks alone grew more than 40 percent from 2009-2012, with 2013 investment projections at $35 billion. The opportunities in this industry abound – not just to operate, but also to own.
Previously, much of our focus on diversity in broadband has been around increased access, computers and education/training on the consumer side, while the corporate side has focused largely on traditional diversity measures such as hiring, retention, C-Suite and Board presence and supplier diversity defined by procurement. These are each vital focus areas. However, during my speech, I also introduced a concept called “Supplier Diversity: The New Frontier” – one which must take the conversation around supplier diversity and inclusion beyond procurement to wealth creation and asset ownership.
In 1993, when Congress first authorized the FCC to allocate public radio frequency spectrum via competitive bidding, its mandates included that the agency promote participation of small and minority-owned business enterprises. Unfortunately, the representation and participation of MWBEs is still lacking in spectrum auctions and ownership, secondary market transactions and the financial transactions resulting from industry consolidations and other deals.
We must deliver on the potential and promise of innovation, competition and universal deployment of broadband and other game-changing wireless services by making MWBEs an integral part of the wireless industries and policies of the FCC – going beyond MWBE engagement only as service providers or app developers to ensuring their inclusion as licensees and spectrum owners.
It’s time to expand our concept of what supplier diversity really means in the 21st Century. It’s time for a new frontier.
>>Download the MMTC "Supplier Diversity: The New Frontier" presentation
>>Watch the High Tech Policy Luncheon – 2014 BBSJ Summit online