Jamal Simmons Says “Broadband Technology Can Help Spur Economic Development” & “We’re Moving into a Technologically Driven World” (Guest Voice Interview)
Jamal Simmons Says “Broadband Technology Can Help Spur Economic Development” & “We’re Moving into a Technologically Driven World”
by Janet Shan
Jamal Simmons, co-chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, principal at The Raben Group and former strategist for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, continues to make the case for the urgency and importance of broadband expansion to under-served areas and for African Americans to bridge the technological divide to the stem the high unemployment rate. Simmons was the keynote speaker at the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Annual Meeting held in Savannah, Ga., September 17, 2011. He moderated the “Economic Development and Broadband Technology” panel, primarily discussing and promoting the importance of greater access to broadband technology and how it can lead to economic development, as well as the creation of thousands of new jobs. Other panelists included State Senator Emanuel Jones, chair of the GLBC; Pete Meadows, regional director of External Affairs, AT&T Georgia; State Rep. Calvin Smyre, chairman emeritus and Jerald Mitchell, director Business Attraction, Savannah Economic Development Authority.
The high unemployment rates, particularly in the black and Latino communities, are weighing heavily on the minds of most Americans. At this time, the biggest concern in Georgia and the rest of the country, is job creation. The unemployment rate in the state of Georgia is hovering around 10.1%, but it is much higher in the black community. That’s where broadband expansion and job retraining could come into play. Jamal Simmons and the Internet Innovation Alliance are on a mission to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to broadband internet.
Here is a partial transcript of my interview with Jamal:
HG: Talk briefly about whether you accomplished the goals you set for yourself with the panel and keynote address:
Jamal Simmons: We talked about all the important ways broadband can help spur economic development. I was very pleased because we had a lot of audience participation as well. They really got animated around this question. At a time when people in Georgia are facing 10% unemployment, broadband expansion is something many people are interested in.
HG: How will the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus help the cause of the Internet Innovation Alliance?
Jamal Simmons: Talking to the Georgia Black Caucus was a way of hearing their ideas and giving them a forum to talk about things like this that are high on the issue list, all the things they have to deal with. Broadband technology is really one of the things that is going to separate the haves from the have nots. There are people concerned about improving chances for African Americans and they really have to have something like broadband technology.
HG: How will broadband technology help reduce high employment rates, particularly in the black community?
Jamal Simmons: Broadband is going to help spur economic activity nationally, as well as in Georgia. There have been studies about the jobs that can be created on the money spent on infrastructure…. The chairman of the FCC committed to having 100,000 call center jobs in America. Those jobs will be coming back from overseas where more Americans will be able be it in rural areas, or in their homes, more Americans will participate in answering questions people may have in call centers. Because of broadband you may be able to do the same work from your home.
HG: A recent study from Deloitte talks about how 4G could spur the creation of thousands of jobs. Talk about how it could have a significant impact on the black and Latino communities.
Jamal Simmons: AT&T/T-Mobile merger — AT&T has committed to spending $8 billion investing in infrastructure and networks to provide this high speed wireless broadband 4G to 97% of Americans. That’s 55 million more people who have access to broadband if this deal with T-Mobile would be able to go through. That’s a lot of money for a lot of people. A lot of jobs would be created off that money. If we were to see that kind of investment take place in the U.S. The trick is for African Americans and any community really for people to have the educational background and skills backgrounds to fill those jobs that will be created. We talked about how to get people prepared for the jobs that could come online.
HG: How do people prepare for those jobs? Do they have to go back to school? Is it all about retraining because of some of the jobs that were lost aren’t coming back.
Jamal Simmons: Education and retraining are going to be critical. Some people will be going to a four year university or a two year community colleges. Some people will be going on line for training, that’s the benefit for broadband internet access. There will be a variety of ways for people have to access the training and the new skills they are going to need. Bill Gates gave a testimony a couple years ago where he said there will be 2.5 million technology jobs will be created in the United States over the next few years, but every year we have fewer and fewer people graduating with technology, science, Math and engineering degrees. What we have to do as a community is to get prepared. Nobody wants the jobs to be sent overseas or offshored.
HG: I know many young people today have never heard of the Black Wall Street that flourished in the early 1900s in Oklahoma. That came about through entrepreneurship and a determination to rise above their circumstances. How would broadband expansion and what your organization does help young people, any of whom are unemployed today, reinvent themselves and possibly start their own businesses:
Jamal Simmons: What’s great about broadband and technology is that it lowers the barriers to entry in some many economic spheres. A young person with a good idea can buy a website, have a cell phone and a wireless connection can start a company. It doesn’t take that much money. They can take that idea and go on the internet and take it globally. I have some friends who started a shoe company and they took it online because they found they could make more money and reach more people across the world than if they had a brick and mortar store. That’s the world that we are moving into. Young people who are coming up in their teens and 20s will know a lot more about how to use technology than someone in their 40s.
The interview resonated with me on so many levels because in many ways, the crisis we face in the black community will take a complete paradigm shift and the same level of innovation and determination the people who made the Black Wall Street in Oklahoma flourish possessed. Broadband is an important step in this direction. There are so many things that we can do with technology — communicate with your doctor, watch the Sunday service at your church, attend a college or university, or even a trade school, do your banking, watch videos, sell products & services, support a cause in another country, read the news, telecommute and so on. Technology affects every area of our lives. The sooner we embrace technology and use it to learn new skills to launch a new career, the quicker we will see an end to outsourcing of jobs and have a more technologically savvy population. Just think back to how limited you were in the 1980s without a cell phone and high speed internet connections? With that said, our best days are ahead of us. Go ahead, embrace technology and please support the Internet Innovation Alliance and the great work they are doing.
Cross posted from Hinterland Gazette