New Paths Forward

I am the granddaughter of immigrant educators

By Joanna Diaz Soffer

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I am the granddaughter of immigrant educators. My abuela taught English to Spanish-speaking immigrants in her living room and helped them get jobs, and my abuelo was a physics professor at the University of Mexico City. When he brought his family to this country for a better life, he supported them by fixing washers and dryers — which he still does to this day. 


Together my grandparents instilled in me the belief that education is the key to prosperity in America. With that lesson in mind, I look at the damage created by the current public health crisis in America and it hurts my heart. But I am proud to be a part of T-Mobile - a company that is working to address and bring relief to our community.


Over the past few months, roughly 55 million kids have been home from school because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With classrooms shuttered, our education system is relying heavily on remote learning, making reliable internet access more essential than ever. And yet nearly 23% of Latino children live in homes without broadband internet. Week after week and month after month, these young people are losing out on a proper education because they can’t take their online coursework, setting up a community that’s already being hit particularly hard by COVID-19 to further disadvantage. 


That’s right — according to data analyzed by NPR, Latinos and Hispanics test positive at rates higher than would be expected for their share of the population in all but one of the 44 U.S. jurisdictions that report Hispanic ethnicity data. The rates are two times higher in 30 states, and over four times higher in eight states. Also, with unemployment in the United States soaring to levels not seen since the Great Depression, Hispanic unemployment sits at an all-time high and higher than any other demographic. 


What’s more, according to the Pew Research Center, Latinos are 48% more likely than the wider public to experience a pay cut or job loss as a result of the coronavirus. Even as some states begin to lift their COVID-19 restrictions, Latinos are being challenged more than others by lack of access to employment, and the potential health impacts of working outside the home filling roles essential to our economy such as front line medical personnel, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers or food producers.


These statistics illustrate just some of the hurdles confronting Latinos in America today. We cannot afford the harm that lack of access to evolving technology would inflict. T-Mobile has long recognized the challenges that underserved communities face, particularly the problems that arise when folks are caught on the wrong side of the Digital Divide, lacking the connectivity they need to thrive.  That’s why, as T-Mobile builds America’s most robust 5G network, it’s prioritizing vulnerable urban populations and rural communities, ensuring affordable, accessible phone and broadband service is available throughout America. In fact, within the next six years, our network will reach 99% of all Americans.
Keeping customers connected is one of our highest priorities during the pandemic and T-Mobile remains committed to ensuring all current customers on plans that currently have data are provided with the connectivity they need to learn and work by providing additional high speed data through June 30, 2020. We also committed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge and extended our commitment to June 30. We know these are uncertain times on many fronts for our customers, and we hope that, through these commitments, we can provide some measure of relief.


T-Mobile is providing for people during this time of serious need, but our commitment to connecting Americans did not begin with the pandemic. Earlier this year, T-Mobile ramped up our efforts to support students by rolling out its EmpowerED 2.0 program, an extension of our ongoing effort to provide public school districts, including charter schools, with low cost service and devices to get online. Through this program, T-Mobile is providing affordable tools that help students get the online access critical to their academic success. T-Mobile and Sprint have helped over 500,000 students across more than 820 schools and school districts nationwide get connectivity solutions in place. 

Additionally, Sprint, which merged with T-Mobile on April 1, has deployed its 1Million Project Foundation to support students across the country. The Foundation’s mission is to help eligible students reach their full potential by ensuring they have the devices and connectivity necessary to succeed in school. In response to current needs, the Foundation temporarily doubled the amount of free data for participating students to 20GB per month, provided additional devices to help support students’ e-learning plans and expanded the program to include students from kindergarten through high school.  And last November we announced  Project 10Million, which will see T-Mobile provide free internet access, hotspots and affordable hardware options to children to 10 million U.S. households over the next five years. 

Our goal is significant: We are helping ensure that every single student in America, Latino and otherwise, can access their online coursework and other digital resources so they may their greatest potential. And we won’t stop until we get there. My community is being hit hard right now and commitments like T-Mobile’s will help us pull through. We will not only recover from this moment, but we will arise smarter, stronger and more connected because of it. 

Joanna Diaz Soffer is in Government & External Affairs, T-Mobile.

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