By Natalie Blanning
Imagine something that you could never live without.
For almost a third of Americans, that item is their mobile phone. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trust study, a mobile phone is more than just a communication tool; it’s a direct connection to health information, news, online banking and other services for many Americans. More and more, Latinos rely on their smartphones to help them navigate everyday life. Smartphones are particularly important as an accessible and affordable alternative Internet portal for the 19 million Americans who do not have access to broadband Internet.
But a battle at a government agency, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), has the potential to increase the cost of smartphones, putting further strain on certain segments of the U.S. population who are already struggling to get by. Apple is seeking an over-reaching injunction that would bar various smartphones made by Samsung—sold by different carriers and at varying price points, from being imported to the U.S. If granted, it will ultimately lead to higher prices and less consumer choice.
Unfortunately, this would deny affordable access to the Internet for many Latinos who rely on their mobile phones to pay bills, get news or job-hunt. To ensure the cost of smartphones stays down, companies should compete in the marketplace over products and innovations, not in courtrooms.
This issue came about because Apple is claiming monopoly over any rounded rectangular touchscreen device. But almost all smartphones are shaped this way, and for good reason—it’s functional. If Apple gets its way, it may try to ban all non-Apple smartphones with rounded corners from entering the United States. This means a higher price tag on mobile phones, because competition won’t exist to drive prices down.
While the ITC’s ruling will have an immediate impact on all of our pockets, it will also widen the digital divide in the Latino community. As more aspects of daily life move online, and as offline alternatives disappear, the range of choices and services available to people without broadband Internet access narrows.
Preserving access to smartphones is especially important in preventing some underserved communities from falling farther behind the digital “haves.” Samsung and other manufacturers of smartphones offer a broad choice of mobile phones at different price points and provide service to rural and prepaid markets, many of which are not serviced by broadband providers.
According to a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a digital divide still exists between native- and foreign-born Latinos. For example, the study found that while 49 percent of the current Latino population in the U.S. owns a smartphone, 58 percent of those who do not own a smartphone are foreign-born Latinos. With this in mind, it seems banning smartphones that come in broader price ranges could further broaden the digital divide for Latinos here in the Central Valley and throughout the country.
While it will be to all smartphone users’ detriment if Apple wins its overbearing case, the biggest burden will be placed on those who can least afford to pay higher prices. That’s inequality at its best.
About The Author: Natalie Blanning is the executive director of Consumer Alliance for A Strong Economy, a statewide non-partisan organization which seeks to educate and inform consumers about state and federal public policy issues. For more information, please visit: www.consumeralliance.org