(Hector Barreto) – As the Latino population continues to grow and thrive in Nevada and other parts of our country, there’s no question that our deep sense of connection with family and community and commitment to hard work and innovation is creating new and rapid demand for wireless communication. While just about everyone seems to have cell phones or smartphones these days, wireless use is especially prevalent among our Latino community. According to Nielsen, we talk and text on our cell phones among the most of any other race or ethnicity in the country – on average using 826 voice minutes while sending nearly 800 SMS (text) messages every month.
Our wireless use isn’t just talking or texting, either. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project shows Latinos use wireless more than any other ethnic group – to send or receive email, access the Internet, play games, access social networking sites, post photos or videos, and bank online. We are also among the most likely to use our cell phones to download apps, play music, even participate in video calls or chats with our wireless device. There’s no question that wireless communication is a vital and integral part of our daily lives. Quite simply, we love it.
That’s why a growing trend in the United States is so troubling. While Nevada realizes the importance of wireless services and has one of the lowest wireless tax rates in the country, the national average monthly tax and fee burden for wireless consumers is more than 16 percent. This is an extraordinarily regressive rate, and puts a particularly tight squeeze on those who can least afford it, such as senior citizens, students, those living on fixed incomes, and small business owners.
This burden is exceptionally excessive on Latinos. Figures recently released by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Latinos earn the lowest weekly median wages of the four major ethnic groups in the United States, making 37 percent less on average than Asians, and about 30 percent less than Caucasians. Latino consumers around the country, who use wireless communication to live, work, and play more than any other group in this country, are paying a grossly disproportionate and unfair amount of taxes and fees.
Latino businesses around the country also depend on wireless to make us more productive communicators, more efficient and also competitive. For those businesses, and millions of our fellow Latino citizens, wireless isn’t the luxury device it once was for corporate executives; it’s become a ‘must-have’ lifeline in our lives. With Nevada leading the U.S. with 11.6 percent unemployment, the economy desperately needs our companies to prosper, and we should reward their use of technology to help improve their bottom line, not penalize it. We all know the American economy is still recovering, and while we all tighten our belts in these tough times, it makes no sense to allow states looking for revenue to compensate for their own budget challenges to impose excessive and unfair financial pain on America’s wireless consumers and businesses.
Thankfully, the U.S. Congress is trying to help taxpayers and consumers alike, and one smart bipartisan bill is moving through Congress. The House unanimously passed the strongly-supported Lofgren-Franks ‘Wireless Tax Fairness Act,’ or H.R. 1002. There is an identical companion bill being considered in the U.S. Senate, co-sponsored by Sens. Wyden and Snowe S. 543. If signed into law, the measure would place a five-year moratorium on all unfair, new state and local wireless taxes and fees. In a recent bipartisan survey conducted by MyWireless.org, 85% of Latinos support Congress passing legislation calling for that action. The legislation would be a substantial step in the right direction for establishing a fair and responsible national tax framework on wireless, not to mention helping Latino consumers and Latino businesses keep a little more of their hard-earned money. The time for the Senate to pass this common sense bill is right now.
I’m encouraged that Congress is looking at legislative proposals to protect our use of an invaluable resource such as wireless – helping it remain affordable and accessible to all Americans, regardless of location, race or ethnicity, or income. Wireless is clearly the leading communication choice of Latinos of all ages to stay connected, and to move our communities forward. It’s time we stand up, and let federal policymakers that when it comes to wireless taxes – enough is enough. These pieces of pro-consumer legislation are important to our businesses, our communities and our future.
Hector Barreto is the Chairman of The Latino Coalition, with offices in Washington, DC and Irvine, CA. Barreto is also the former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information, please visit http://www.thelatinocoalition.com/.