Investing in Digital Equity for the Hispanic Community
with Alejandro Roark of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP)
According to the FCC, approximately 18 million people in America lack broadband service, and for underserved communities, connectivity is out of greater reach.
Alejandro Roark, Executive Director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss the digital divide in the Hispanic community and the importance of cities investing in digital equity.
August 31, 2021
Anderson: The COVID-19 pandemic has made high-speed Internet a necessity, allowing us to connect with loved ones, access education and stay connected to our jobs through video conferencing. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Joining me to talk about broadband and the digital divide is Alejandro Roark, executive director of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership. Alejandro, thanks for being here.
Roark: Happy to be here, Tetiana. Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So we know access is clearly a huge issue, and I think that people might be surprised to learn that it's not all about this idea that broadband is not available. In your world, this is something that you guys call deployment versus adoption. And I'm wondering if you can explain that and what's going on with this.
Roark: Of course, throughout the course of the pandemic, we saw these heartbreaking pictures of Latina students attempting to do their homework at a Taco Bell parking lot. When school kind of shifted online, we saw huge unemployment lines and we're seeing now low vaccination rates. And I think that that is -- What those images kind of tell is what happens when Latino households aren't able to connect to the Internet at home. And so I think that when we talk about how to address that connectivity gap, it's important to kind of make a distinction between deploying. Right? So deploying new infrastructure and working on adoption. The reality is that the majority of Latino household live within urban areas where they do have broadband options available to them. But on the adoption front, we know that the median household income for Latino families is $56,000 a year. And so they're really negotiating a large kind of basket of goods with those funds. And so when we think about how to address the adoption, you know, Latino families aren't adopting because the cost of broadband right now is a little bit too high and makes it out of reach for Latino families. And so I think that if we're gonna focus on adoption, it really requires us to reach communities where they are and to work collectively to ensure that we are establishing programs or collective action efforts that are going to help ensure that every family can connect, regardless of their zip code, their race, or their economic standing.
Anderson: So the federal government has in part a solution for this. And it's the Emergency Broadband Benefit program or EBB. Explain in general what that program does.
Roark: Yeah, of course, I think that right now, what's great about this moment is that the Biden administration really is working to make broadband affordable to everyone, right, through his American Jobs Plan, the American Rescue Plan, and specifically, I think, with Congress established the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which provides low-income families with up to $50 a month and up to $100 toward the purchase of a connected device to help them pay for either the cost of their existing broadband service at home or to connect to the Internet for the first time.
Anderson: And I know that your organization is sort of taking that a step further. You've established something called EBB para mí, which really focuses on the Hispanic community. But I'm wondering what are the specific barriers that Hispanic communities face when it comes to accessing broadband? I mean, why did you feel the need to create EBB para mí?
Roark: Yeah, I think that, number one, the Latino families now more than ever are aware that broadband is an essential service that we all need in our lives. It's not just for entertainment anymore. And so we also know that there's been a lot of other programs. The Lifeline program, for example, also administered by the Federal Communications Commission, which a lot of people didn't know about. And so for us, we really see the Emergency Broadband Benefit program or EBB, as an important onramp to digital connectivity. And so for us, it meant ensuring that the Latino community has access to multicultural resources, bilingual resources, videos, information about the program, and wraparound support to help them make decisions like how to select or find an Internet service provider in their community and how to select a plan that meets their family's connectivity needs and their long-term budget.
Anderson: So as you're talking, all of this is making me think that this is really about the nexus of several things -- public policy, technology, the ethics of inclusion, spaces I know that you focus on. What do you think needs to happen not just now, but in the future to close this technology gap, not just for the Hispanic community, but for all communities who face this barrier?
Roark: You know, like I mentioned earlier, I think reaching that big goal of universal connectivity really requires collective action on all fronts, right? It means that, you know, Congress working together with the Biden administration, working together with the FCC, but also, I think, working together with local communities to ensure that they have the capacity to understand the depth of the local digital divide, that they have staff that is able to meaningfully convene multicultural stakeholders, historically excluded members or disconnected members of the community, along with policymakers and industry leaders, so that we can all work together to connect as many people as possible to the Internet and make an efficient use of all the funding that is being made available to local communities today.
Anderson: And, Alejandro, if people want to find out more about your organization, what's the website? Where can they go?
Roark: So I encourage everyone to stay connected and tune into the conversation by following us on social media at httppolicy. And then please learn more about the EBB para mí campaign or help us spread the word by visiting ebbparami.org.
Anderson: Alejandro Roark of the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, thank you so much for being here.
Roark: Of course. Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.