Here is a true story; this Valentine’s Day, my fiancée will be in another country and it is the absolute worst. She travels often and there is nothing I can do about that, but we have a secret that helps to keep us close even when she is thousands of miles away; it’s technology.
Video conferencing over Gmail to be exact, and if you must know all of this came about because of my suegra (that’s Spanish for mother in law for those not in the know). You see, like many Hispanic families, my fiancée’s mother lives in another country; Bolivia, to be exact. Some time ago, my suegra retired and the cold weather of the east coast didn’t suit her, so she moved back to her mother country. As it turns out land lines in Bolivia are not the best, sometimes the only way to get a hold of her is through video conferencing over her mobile device. Go figure.
So that’s how it all started; a daughter trying to reach her mother in a land far far away. Once I realized how easy it was to video conference I started doing it from my mobile device. Now no matter how far away she may be, I can always see my beautiful fiancée. I started talking to my friends, and it quickly became apparent that I was not alone in this. Doing a little research, I quickly found that this is a national phenomenon.
Not only is the Hispanic population ballooning in the United States, but Hispanic Americans are among the most enthusiastic adopters of mobile communications technologies. A recent report noted that the 50.5 million Hispanics living in the U.S. today are increasingly turning to mobile broadband rather than wired connections for their main method of connecting to the internet and their loved ones. In addition, Hispanics also often have family members or loved ones abroad. The foreign-born population of Mexicans alone totals 11.6 million. That is a lot of lonely Valentines.
Technology, as it turns out, is only half of the battle when it comes to connecting loved ones across the world. The real issue here is that the increased use of our national communications networks has exposed serious problems with our underlying infrastructure which can cause access issues. According to Cisco, the total amount of mobile data traffic grew 70 percent in 2012. All of this traffic is causing a shortage of Spectrum in the United States.
For those not up on their geek speak, Spectrum acts as the wireless highway which transmits all of our mobile media. Currently this highway, which will connect countless lovelorn Hispanics this Valentine’s Day, is a backed-up two-lane disaster. Traffic is sluggish and anyone in a rush to see their loved ones may find long wait times. Not only are we rapidly running out of road to support our wireless needs, but at this point we must upgrade and build out the lanes of that highway.
Recently, a group of Hispanic business and advocacy groups filed a brief with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on just this issue. The filing asks the federal government to hasten the transition away from outdated technologies to modern communications networks to ensure the long-term viability of these networks. Such a transition will benefit Hispanics across the country. At the core of their argument is the simple notion that consumers benefit from having access to more options.
Options being the operative word; today because of technologies we have more ways of reaching our loved ones than ever before. While access, competition and pricing are keys to improving our nation’s telecommunications network, there is a broader change in society that this brief underscores. Expanding options for service and providing access to ethnically-diverse groups underscores how much our country is changing. To meet those changes, our telecommunications network must be given the ability to reach a larger swath of the population.
Connectivity in this context means much more than the technical kind. There is something magical about a smile, digitally transmitted from long distance through fiber optic wires over airwaves in Spectrum to your mobile device. This is doubly true on Valentine’s Day, and one could argue even more so for Hispanics. In this modern age, we are lucky that although space may separate us from those we love, technology can bring us closer than we ever thought possible. This Valentine’s Day, I for one am grateful for this simple fact.
Kristian Ramos is the Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative at NDN and The New Policy Institute.