Today we are proud to partner with the Aspen Institute for the third straight year to present a Symposium on The State of Race In America. The conference will explore new attitudes, opportunities, and challenges for and about people of color in 21st century America.  An exciting array of panelists, including moderators Jose Diaz-Balart, Ray Suarez, and Juan Williams will lead meaningful discussions on a wide range of issues related to race in America today. We are delighted to help keep this important conversation going. 

As the latest census confirms, America is an incredibly diverse society and becoming more so every year, but our surge of diversity has not been matched by a corresponding surge of inclusion.  The issue of inclusion is an important one and one especially important inclusion issue is whether all Americans will have access to the benefits of the broadband revolution.  Access to broadband is fast becoming synonymous with access to quality education, employment opportunities, news and entertainment, and even health care.  

About 30 percent of Americans – many of whom are living below the poverty line – remain on the wrong side of the digital divide.  They do not have broadband access at home and/or do not have a home computer or device capable of supporting high-speed Internet use.  And while this isn’t strictly an issue of race, it disproportionately affects people of color.  According to data from the Pew Research Center while 66 percent of white Americans have a home broadband connection, only 49 percent of African Americans and 51 percent of Hispanic Americans have adopted broadband at home.  

As the country's largest Internet service provider, we felt a responsibility to do something about this divide.  In mid-2011, with the help of many stakeholders and thousands of school districts across the country, we launched Internet Essentials, the largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low income Americans.  The program offers qualifying low income families broadband Internet access for $9.95 a month along with the opportunity to buy an Internet ready computer for less than $150 as well as some digital literacy training.  By the end of 2012, we had enrolled over 150,000 families in Internet Essentials – making broadband Internet available to over 600,000 people or the equivalent of the entire population of the District of Columbia. The goal of Aspen’s Symposium on the State of Race is to elicit ideas about inclusion challenges and to propose solutions.  That’s what we’ve tried to do with Internet Essentials and while it won’t eliminate the digital divide it represents a significant step forward.