FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani
Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces
Las Cruces, New Mexico
I am delighted to be with you this evening. It's always wonderful to come home to New Mexico, and to see so many accomplished Hispanos fills my heart with pride in my heritage. And I congratulate the Hispano Chamber de Las Cruces for the work you do in your community. The continued success of the International Mariachi Conference is just one example of your fine endeavors.
I'd like to speak about the promise that electronic commerce holds for our country -- and for Hispanics in particular. In 1998, the U.S. Internet economy generated an estimated $300 billion in revenue and 1.2 million jobs. E-commerce is projected to be a trillion-dollar global market in the next three to five years. And the e-commerce revolution offers opportunity for all. A small business in Las Cruces or Mesilla can market and sell its products around the globe, while consumers can shop the global marketplace from their own homes.
And just as Americans are dancing to the Latin beat of Ricky Martin, American business is realizing that Hispanics are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Indeed, the digital economy offers opportunities that we could not have imagined just a few years ago.
But before I talk about the promise of today, I'd like to look back at a man who devoted his life to creating opportunities and enriching the lives of all Americans. I'd like to spend a little time talking to you about mi abuelo, the late United States Senator Dennis Chavez, who represented New Mexico in Congress for 32 years. I'd like to tell you about his life and his legacy.
There is a statue of my grandfather in the Capitol building in Washington. His statue has an inscription in English, Spanish and Navajo. The Spanish portion reads "Dejo este Señor una vereda trazada que nunca se olvidará. Lo hizo con la esperanza que otros la sigan." -- "He left a mark that will never be forgotten in the hopes that others would follow." I'd like to tell you about the mark of this extraordinary American.
My grandfather was born in 1888 in the village of Los Chavez in the lower Rio Grande Valley. His parents were poor but hardworking farmers, who in 1895, moved their family to Albuquerque in search for better jobs and schools for their children. At the age of 13 and after finishing 7th grade, he quit school to go work and help support his family. He didn't go to high school or college, but educated himself by reading at the public library in Albuquerque. He taught himself how to be a surveyor and worked as an assistant engineer for the City of Albuquerque. In 1916, by then married to Imelda Espinosa, he moved his family to Washington D.C., where he worked for Senator A. A. Jones. While in Washington, he passed a special entrance examination to Georgetown Law School and received his law degree in 1920.
He then moved back to Albuquerque, where he practiced law successfully and was elected to the State Legislature in 1923. Chavez introduced the first bill to provide free textbooks to the school children of New Mexico. In 1930 he was elected, and in 1932 he was reelected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1934 he tried to defeat the Republican U.S. Senator Bronson Cutting, but was unsuccessful; he was appointed to the seat after Cutting died in a plane crash in 1935. He was elected and re-elected to the U.S. Senate and served until his death on November 19, 1962.
At the time of his death, Chavez was 4th in seniority and was chairman of the most powerful subcommittee of the U.S. Senate - the one that set the appropriations for the national defense. During his tenure, he supported New Deal Programs, and was an advocate for national education measures and equal rights for women. He was a tireless champion for tolerance, human rights, and civil rights. From 1945 to 1948, he tried to pass the Fair Employment Practices Bill, the precursor to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
I can't give you a detailed description of all of my grandfather's accomplishments but I can say that if there was one characteristic that drove Chavez, it was courage. I can also tell you he stood for the principles of decency, fairness, and equality for all Americans.
And, Chavez was not afraid to use his position or his power to fight discrimination. The story goes that the city of Roswell would not allow a young Mexican girl into the Municipal Swimming Pool. Chavez heard about it and he called the Mayor. And he told him "Open the swimming pools and all the public facilities to everybody in Roswell or Walker Air Force Base will not be funded." And guess what? The swimming pools were opened to all. The golf course was opened to all.
Today the floodgates of electronic commerce are wide open and the opportunities for Hispanics are abundant.
As Hispanics, our voice - nuestra voz -- is as strong today as ever. Latin culture in general is "hot." National news shows and magazines talk about our growing political clout. And as the fastest growing segment of the American population, our voice is increasingly resonating in the digital economy.
A recent issue of Hispanic Market Weekly indicates that the Hispanic presence on the Internet has reached a level where it is now feasible to use the Internet as a Hispanic-advertising medium. Just last month, Español.com, an online retailer for Spanish-speakers, released a survey on U.S. Hispanic online shoppers. The survey found that 61 percent of U.S. Hispanics online have made a purchase in the last year. Of those purchasers, 74 percent connect to the Internet daily.
And business recognizes the opportunity offered by the Hispanic demographics. Hispanic-oriented e-commerce is thriving. LatinGrocer.com, for example, is a Miami-based online vendor of Hispanic foods and products. There are at least six web portals aimed at Spanish-speaking Internet users. And as of last year, there were over 200 Hispanic-targeted websites.
Despite the promise of the Latin e-commerce market, real challenges remain. As you all well know, Hispanics and other minorities are not just consumers of e-commerce but are also entrepreneurs. The major costs for an E-commerce business can be divided into start-up costs - typically advertising and production -and back-end system integration. A Chicago Tribune article estimates that the ratio of start-up costs to back-end costs is 1 to 4. Getting people to your website can be expensive. But once you sell the product or service, you incur even greater costs. You have to be able to deliver the product or service in a timely manner, or you lose the customer.
And as businesspeople, minorities cannot count on color-blindness and profit motive to help make our businesses a success. We need to be working together and one place to do that networking is on the Internet. That's why I was so pleased to find that your chamber has a website devoted to business networking and education. Your site offers Hispanic-owned businesses an opportunity to develop web pages and Internet advertising, and soon the entire membership will be listed by product or service rendered. It is this type of marketing and networking that will enable your businesses - including minority-owned small businesses - to succeed in this dynamic e-commerce marketplace.
Other challenges still remain. Too many Americans remain on the losing side of the Digital Divide. For many Americans who are minority or poor, or who live in rural areas or inner cities, there are far too few on-ramps to the Information Superhighway.
Between 1994 and 1997, ownership of personal computers increased 52 percent and e-mail access expanded by almost 400 percent. Not surprisingly, this growth occurred to a greater extent in some communities than in others. The Commerce Department's latest report confirms that poorer families have much less access to computers and e-mail than families with more money. In fact, in 1997 there was an even wider gap in computer ownership levels between upper and lower income households than there was in 1994.
The Report further indicates that white households are twice as likely as Black or Hispanic households to own a personal computer and three times more likely to have on-line access.
And the Digital Divide separates our rural citizens from their urban counterparts. A reality that we are well aware of here in New Mexico. Indeed, Americans living in rural areas - at all income levels - are lagging behind in Internet access, let alone high-speed Internet access.
We cannot afford to be a society of information "haves" and "have-nots" in a world in which the ability to access and manipulate information is the currency of the day.
All Americans must have access to this new technology. In particular, all Americans must have access to computers and to the Internet through their schools and public libraries. This is why I have strongly supported the e-rate program. The e-rate provides discounts to schools and libraries for internal wiring, Internet connections and Internet service. The most disadvantaged schools and libraries, as well as those in rural areas, receive the highest discounts. Since November 1998, New Mexico schools have benefited from nearly $48 million in e-rate funding, and Las Cruces schools have received well over $1 million. The e-rate is one way we can ensure that our children - particularly low-income and minority children - can gain the skills to compete in a digital economy. I am proud that this year we funded the e-rate at the cap of $2.25 billion.
For rural communities, e-commerce and broadband capability provides a unique opportunity to overcome traditional geographic barriers. Small businesses can develop a global customer base. With advanced telecommunications capabilities, rural communities can compete with larger cities for information technology and other businesses.
To that end, I also wish to support and applaud President Clinton's announcement this week of specific budget proposals to make access to computers and the Internet as universal as the telephone is today. Through tax incentives, training, tech centers, and other initiatives, the President and Vice President Gore are committed to creating new opportunities for all Americans in the digital age. And I applaud businesses such as Ford Motor Company, which just announced that it will provide every one of its 350,000 employees with a home computer and Internet access. With efforts like these, I know that together, we will bridge the Digital Divide.
The Internet offers us all tremendous opportunities. On the Internet, we have a virtual Mercado, where we can buy and sell, where all indications are that shoppers will continue to increase in numbers if we can figure out how best to respond to consumer needs. The Internet also provides us with an opportunity to network, to help one another enter this new marketplace, to build solid businesses. Finally, with the Internet comes an enormous responsibility to our children. We owe a duty to the next generation to make sure that they have Internet access in order to gain the skills, the expertise, and the resources necessary to compete in this whole new marketplace.
I'd like to leave you with a story that taught me that the possibilities of the Internet and e-commerce are limited only to the imagination. I learned this from a young New Mexico boy named Luke Merry. Luke and his mother have had a computer and Internet connection for almost three years, since Luke was in first grade. The bill for their Internet access had always been $20 a month, until one month when his mother received a bill for $65. Shocked, she called her access provider and asked what had happened. The provider replied that the Internet access fee was still $20 a month but that the commercial account that had been set up was an additional $45 per month. She, of course, asked "what commercial account?" and was advised that "K and L Website Design" had opened an account under her access code.
She soon learned that her son Luke - the L of "K and L Website Design" - and his friend Kyle had decided that they could design websites for people through the Internet. They had seen a market opportunity and acted on it. Fortunately, the Internet access provider saw the humor in the situation and cancelled the account with no charges, telling Luke's mom that if Luke lived another 9 years to the age of 18, he should call about a job. E-commerce, the sky is the limit.