By Charles Cervantes
The U.S. Small Business Administration and Census Bureau report that there are over 28 million small businesses that create over 90 percent of all new jobs in the nation. Moreover, small businesses are innovators in technology, creating over 90 percent of all U.S. patents and comprising 90 percent of all U.S. exporters.
Put simply, small business entrepreneurs are driving innovation and technology in the United States today. And this is especially true at minority-owned small businesses, which have been growing at over six times the rate for U.S. businesses as a whole.
Encouraging the success of companies that are today’s “start-ups” and tomorrow’s giants should be the focus of U.S. economic policy.
One place to start is expanding access to Wi-Fi. This is critical for minority entrepreneurs and communities, which have triple the number of smartphone-only Internet users (those without a broadband connection at home who depend on cell and Wi-Fi networks for access). Research shows minorities are more likely to use public Wi-Fi networks and to use them more heavily than their peers.
Today, across America, Wi-Fi has become an indispensable lifeline, providing affordable quality wireless Internet access to businesses large and small. From coffee shops to shopping malls to schools, libraries, and train stations, access to a wireless connection has become a fundamental way of doing business. Whole new industries have been built atop the foundation of unlicensed Wi-Fi, boosting communities, improving consumer welfare, and providing quality jobs.
Wi-Fi’s genius – and its particular value for minority entrepreneurs – is its openness. Anyone can create new technologies or business models using Wi-Fi, without seeking FCC approval or permission. There is no need to buy costly licenses or participate in auctions to use the network. It is an open innovation playground – with a level playing field that lets everyone compete on the merits.
But as Wi-Fi grows in popularity and more and more innovative services and products are developed to use it, the spectrum grows more and more crowded and scarce. Wi-Fi devices can only communicate on certain frequencies set aside for this purpose by the FCC, as the number of devices using Wi-Fi explodes, so does traffic in this limited space.
Cisco predicts that by 2018, over two-thirds of all Internet traffic is expected to move over Wi-Fi. There are already more mobile devices in the world than people, and a billion new smartphones ship each year. Already, in many parts of the country, the Wi-Fi lanes are jammed up – slowing the data for consumers and hurting the Internet economy that has emerged across our nation.
To deal with this problem and keep the Internet open for minority entrepreneurs, Congress must act to ensure more spectrum is available to our communities.
The easiest and quickest way to do this is to support the bipartisan bill by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Congress that would open up new spectrum and ease the spectrum crunch. More access to high-speed wireless spectrum is critical to ensuring that all innovators, entrepreneurs and communities have the bandwidth they need.
We should also be careful to manage existing spectrum in a way that ensures Wi-Fi networks remain strong and stable. As new technologies come online, the FCC should ensure they are good neighbors and do not drag down existing Wi-Fi uses our community depends on so heavily. That is what the FCC is doing with its careful inquiry to make sure the new LTE-U cell phone system works effectively and responsibly alongside existing Wi-Fi and that no technology inadvertently weakens or co-opts already-scarce unlicensed frequencies.
Minority businesses and entrepreneurs support smart policies to promote innovation in the high tech and Internet sectors – especially Wi-Fi technologies our communities rely upon so much.
Cervantes serves on the Minority Business Roundtable Board of Directors.
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