Bridging OC’s Digital Divide

AT&T and T-Mobile Merge with Possibilities
There is no doubt that in Orange County we face a vast digital divide. While technology has developed at a staggering rate, and new products and services emerge by the minute, the community’s access to these new products and services has not kept pace. Dead zones throughout the county plague small and medium size businesses, resulting in missed opportunities for economic growth.

In the late 1990’s, Anaheim and Fullerton attempted to close that divide through citywide wireless access for residents and businesses, but for various reasons, each city fell short of completing the vision. Over the years other OC cities have implemented wireless technologies in limited settings, such as in city halls or community centers, but many cities have been reluctant to construct needed cell phone towers, install fiber optics, or establish access points, deterred by the immense cost. As it stands today, much work remains to connect residents and business to the vast potential of widespread wireless connectivity.

AT&T recently announced plans to acquire T-Mobile. This proposed merger has the potential to provide the wireless network the County needs to “get connected,” as well as the technological advancements businesses need to compete on a global level. At a time when businesses are finding fewer and fewer reasons to stay in California, and unemployment looms at 8.9% in Orange County, and a staggering 12% in California, increased access to enhanced wireless services through a larger network will spark economic development and recovery.

A physical workspace is no longer required to do business, and the use of state-of-the-art information technology to conduct business is no longer a mere competitive advantage, it is a necessity. Access to the internet in Orange County is slightly higher than most metropolitan areas – in 2009 the rate of access for adults was 79% – but there is still work to be done. As such, it is critical that businesses have access to reliable broadband speeds and seamless coverage. Two major technology providers like AT&T and T-Mobile coming together ensures that access to these critical services is more reliable, faster and more effective.

The education system in Orange County will benefit as well. The Orange County Department of Education is currently exploring installing bandwidth to bring internet access to all students. Whether through video conferencing, online tutorials, or pre-recorded videos, the way students learn is changing. The enhanced access that will result from this merger will provide students the opportunities that will prepare them for the high-tech, high-skill jobs of the future.

But the benefits of this merger go beyond jobs creation and business development. Our local governments stand to benefit as well. 65% of wireless technology used by local governments is dedicated to public safety; providing faster, more reliable service allows first responders like fire and police greater coordination and enhanced efficiency, ultimately benefitting the communities they serve.

As we move forward into the 21st century, it is important to promote all efforts to build out the most advanced networks possible. Orange County is one of the most desirable places in the nation to live, work, raise families and enjoy an excellent quality of life. Increased access to state-of-the-art wireless services benefits both business and residents, helping to educate our youth, providing a means for our region’s vibrant economy to expand, bringing the benefits of prosperity to every corner of the county. For more information contact Kate Klimow, Vice President of Government Affairs.

This editorial was written by Lucy Dunn, President and CEO of Orange County Business Council.

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