The Latino Coalition Legislative Summit recently took place in Washington, D.C., and brought together more than 300 Latino business leaders discussing the resurgence of small businesses and listening to remarks from the president of the United States and two members of his Cabinet, the secretaries of labor and transportation.
The summit came at a critical time in America’s Latino business story. According to a November 2017 report from The Aspen Institute, Latino-owned businesses in the United States generate a total of $473 billion in revenue and 2.3 million jobs. Yet, according to the same report, these businesses generate only 12 percent of all U.S. firms and contribute 1 percent of total U.S. firm receipts.
It is clear there is a significant gap in growth potential among Latino businesses in the United States. And at the recent Latino Coalition Summit, one opportunity to address this issue became a prominent focus of discussion: investments and buildout in advanced technologies including fifth-generation wireless broadband (commonly referred to as 5G).
Attendees steadfastly agreed that by providing widespread access to rapidly approaching 5G wireless, we will incentivize private investments that yield new business opportunities for Latinos and ultimately make these small and mid-sized businesses more competitive. Attendees also agreed this advanced technology could be the key to reverse America’s digital divide.
With speeds up to 100 times faster than current state-of-the-art 4G wireless and reduced latency (the lag time between command and response) 5G will undeniably empower businesses. Driverless delivery vehicles and industrial robots will become an everyday reality. Companies will be able to communicate with customers and suppliers instantaneously, face-to-face, around the world. Marketing, manufacturing, and customer service will all change for the better. In fact, 5G is expected to increase U.S. GDP by $500 billion and create 3 million new jobs.
5G will also be our nation’s opportunity to remedy the digital divide that still exists between low-income and wealthy Americans, and particularly Hispanic and non-Hispanic citizens and businesses. By advancing this next generation broadband network, we can ensure underserved demographics finally gain access to life-changing technologies. Notably, minorities are much more likely to use mobile devices to access the internet, apply for jobs, and look up information on health conditions. Making sure they have 5G will, in turn, dramatically improve quality of life.
Success of this plan, however, will depend on the permitting and locating of small cell antennas. Unlike the cell towers we see today, small cells are infrastructure units often no bigger than a shoebox and can be mounted on existing structures such as utility poles or street signs. In addition to their small size, they also have shorter range, making it necessary for wireless providers to erect thousands of them in towns and rural areas.
To meet the demand for mobile broadband services, address coverage and capacity issues, and take advantage of emerging 5G technologies, optimizing the network with existing and new macro sites as well as dense smaller cell antennas, often using rights of way and public corridors, is essential. Achieving this connectivity will require a cooperative effort in the areas of streamlined permitting and processes, right-of-way application, and fee structure.
To this end, the infrastructure permitting processes used by most communities today are a major impediment to small cell placement. They force providers to negotiate individual agreements with every locality, slowing 5G deployment. Many states have recognized this problem and have either adopted uniform statewide rules or are in the process of doing so, because they understand that failure to modernize permitting will penalize workers, businesses, and communities.
5G’s coming technological revolution in power, speed, and connectivity must be open to everyone. If Latino businesses and employers are unable to compete because they don’t have access to latest and most innovative technology, the gap between these businesses and non-Latino ones will only grow larger. In addition, failure to mobilize will mean squandering a golden opportunity to bridge our nation’s digital divide and finally provide more growth, more prosperity, and an enhanced quality of life for all citizens regardless of location and/or economic status.
The facts speak for themselves: It’s time to streamline policies that incentivize buildout and deployment of 5G. Life-changing opportunities for Latinos – and every American – await.
Hector V. Barreto is the chairman of The Latino Coalition, one of the largest and most effective Latino advocacy groups in the nation.
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