Nearly 20 years ago, President Bill Clinton said, “Together we have the power to determine exactly what we want the Internet to become. And what we want it to do is to be an instrument of empowerment, education, enlightenment, and economic advance[ment] and community building all across America, regardless of the race, the income, the geography of our citizens.”
Sadly, the Internet has not lived up to these goals, and the digital divide is a reality for too many urban and rural communities across New York—including those in Rochester. In fact, more than a third of households in Monroe County with an annual income of less than $20,000 do not have access to the internet at home. These inequities exacerbate economic disparities because the Internet is an increasingly essential access point for job hunting, health care, and education. The result is a homework gap for students, persistent health care deserts for rural patients, and a digital divide that we haven’t been able to close—yet.
But recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved the T-Mobile-Sprint merger, helping to clear the path for a new competitor that will drive innovation and consumer benefits—particularly for underserved consumers.
The joint spectrum portfolios of T-Mobile and Sprint will enable New T-Mobile to significantly accelerate 5G deployment throughout New York, which will force Verizon, AT&T, and other providers to up their investments. It will also create a massive amount of network capacity that will put downward pressure on prices, helping to keep more money in the pockets of lower-income consumers who often depend on wireless service to stay connected. New T-Mobile’s plans will drive industry prices down while improving service for everyone.
Following the merger, the company will dedicate itself to putting this massive network capacity to work for good. The new company will work with civil rights leaders—National Urban League, National Action Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, League of United Latin American Citizens, and UNIDOSUS— to ensure these benefits reach those most in need. In partnership with these organizations, New T-Mobile committed to significant philanthropic investments in institutions serving disadvantaged or underrepresented communities to support tech entrepreneurship and to bridge the gap in literacy, job training, and participation in the digital economy for communities of color.
The new company also committed to expanding wireless offerings to low-income citizens, underserved populations, and insular and rural areas after the merger. Two such programs were just announced for New T-Mobile after the merger’s close—Project 10Million and T-Mobile Connect. Project 10Million aims to end the homework gap by offering free service, hotspots, and low-cost devices to 10 million households and families over five years, and T-Mobile Connect will make wireless more accessible for underserved communities by slashing the price of T-Mobile’s current lowest-cost wireless plan in half.
The New T-Mobile will not only help improve New York’s digital connectivity, it will also support the state’s economy through its new proposed Customer Experience Centers in the Rochester area and Nassau County, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself has praised. The new centers will bring nearly 1,000 new high-quality jobs with good benefits to each area.
But New T-Mobile can only fulfill these commitments if the merger closes. With the next generation of wireless service—5G—on the horizon, we can either embrace this major step forward or allow millions of lower-income and rural Americans to fall farther behind. We can and should do better—for everyone.
We’re still a long way from the equity and access envisioned by President Clinton nearly 20 years ago. T-Mobile and Sprint have formally pledged to help close the digital divide in the United States following the merger, and the combined company will have the scale, resources, and culture to ensure that everyone has access to the tools to thrive in today’s economy. I urge all of New York’s leaders to support the merger and bring good jobs, lower prices, and increased broadband access for those who need it most across the state.
Broderick Johnson served as Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary under President Barack Obama, Deputy Assistant for Legislative Affairs under President Bill Clinton, and is currently an advisor to Sprint and Senior of Counsel with the law firm Covington & Burling LLP.