Millions across the globe refer to Silicon Valley as the epicenter of innovation. Each and every day we depend on some of this region’s largest and most well-known companies to power our e-mail, support our social media accounts and supply us with video streaming services. This is the Silicon Valley most Washington policy wonks tout and these are the enterprises with which we are most familiar.
Last week, however, as part of my #ConnectingCommunities tour, I had the opportunity to widen my perspective and gain expanded, more comprehensive insights by visiting several key innovators whose work and mission may not be as well known, but are certainly relevant and inspiring. Thousands of entrepreneurs, startups and investors are using technology and resources to drive advancements in healthcare, broadband infrastructure, connectivity and viewpoint diversity. Allow me to introduce you to just a few:
When we announced my #ConnectingCommunities tour in April, our primary goal was to hear first-hand about the opportunities and challenges of bringing affordable, diverse and competitive communications services to all Americans. The concept of connecting communities can take many forms, so while on the surface, a Silicon Valley-based children’s hospital and a neighboring NFL team and stadium may appear worlds apart, they in fact share a common goal of using technology to connect their communities.
My visit on Monday morning began in Palo Alto with a stop to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which just last year was honored as one of the nation’s most wired hospitals. I learned more about their use of telehealth in urology and toured the pediatric intensive care unit to see how they use electronic medical records and an electronic dashboard to improve patient care.
We then dashed over to Santa Clara and Diya TV, America's first 24/7 free, digital, over-the-air South Asian network. Their efforts to support the South Asian community are not just limited to the Bay Area, but are nationwide. I was also interviewed about my policy priorities and spoke about inmate calling reform; Connect2Health; and expanding opportunities for independent and diverse programmers. The broadcast is now available at youtube.com/diyatvusa.
Next, I saw a demonstration of Mimosa Networks’ outdoor gigabit wireless platform and met with many of their employees. Mimosa and one of their ISP partners, Sail Internet, spoke about what they are doing to bring affordable connectivity to unserved and underserved communities with download speeds of at least 100Mbps.
We returned to Palo Alto to join Congresswoman Anna Eshoo for a meeting with Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Company Brands to discuss diversity and entrepreneurship. Walker, who created Bevel, the first end-to-end shaving system designed for men with curly hair, cited “awareness” as a critical factor when it comes to increasing diversity among Valley companies.
We finished up the day a few miles away with a visit to Ooma, a telecommunications company which has developed a gateway that once purchased, allows consumers and businesses to make VoIP-based phone calls.
I spent Tuesday in San Francisco, beginning with a meeting at CODE2040, a non-profit focused on increasing “access, awareness, and opportunities for top Black and Latino/a engineering talent.” The visit reinforced how much of a wealth of diverse, highly-qualified talent there is in the region, yet it was acknowledged that there continues to be an extreme disconnect when it comes to placing this top talent in Silicon Valley’s top companies. The environment at CODE2040 is encouraging and supportive and the positive vibes are contagious.
At lunch, I was joined by an inspiring group of entrepreneurs for a roundtable discussion about health technology and on ways to increase diversity in the tech sector. Hosted by Engine, the conversation provided me a ground level picture of the barriers and opportunities to start-up success for women and minorities.
Later at Twilio (cloud communications), I met with their team and representatives of Lyft and Remind. We had a meaningful discussion about how these companies utilize the Twilio platform to engage communities and the importance of the Commission’s Open Internet rules.
I continued the #ConnectingCommunities conversation at my next stop, with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). From computer literacy training to an in-depth 12 week advanced technology training called the Mission Techies program, MEDA seeks to educate and prepare young adults for jobs in the tech sector. They aim to ensure students, families and all residents enjoy the opportunity and access that internet connectivity provides.
Then that evening, I participated in a fireside chat hosted by a talented group of leaders in technology and entrepreneurship. We discussed how the Commission is working to advance competition, consumer choice, and innovation, as well as what can be done to strengthen the relationship between government and Silicon Valley. In addition, we had a meaningful conversation about the importance of diversity in the technology industry and #ConnectingCommunities.
My last day in Silicon Valley began with a trip to Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers) to learn about their journey to become one of the most advanced Wi-Fi connected stadiums in the nation. To support this connectivity, it takes a remarkable 70 miles of cable. Not only does the stadium boast top tier infrastructure, it also serves as an education hub for students in grades K to 8, with a STEM museum located within its confines. Their programs highlight the importance of STEM education and technology, with a focus on how integral both are when it comes to the business of sports, powering game day, and connected learning.
My trip wrapped up that afternoon at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit on Stanford University’s campus, where I served as a judge for one of the pitch competitions. I met entrepreneurs from around the world including Ana Maria from Venezuela who created Laboratoria as a way to empower young women from low-income backgrounds and provide them with access to education and work in the digital sector. I left the summit inspired by the remarkable talent of these young entrepreneurs who overcame myriad obstacles to develop their companies.
While my conversations during this three-day journey varied, the overarching theme of harnessing the benefits of emerging technologies and high-speed connectivity to improve lives was the common thread. By the end of the trip, I felt invigorated (despite being physically taxed) and even more ready to continue to do my part to ensure that broadband is both accessible and affordable, and that there is an open line of communication between Washington policymakers and all types of Silicon Valley innovators.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity these companies and individuals provided for me to listen and learn. We must never lose sight of the promise of a tech industry that includes the presence and talents of those from diverse backgrounds. These are the individuals who will find meaningful and sustainable ways to make a difference, invent solutions to everyday problems and create opportunities where they may be sorely lacking. This message was reinforced throughout my visits.
As I continue on my #ConnectedCommunities tour, I am ever mindful that our work is not done and its importance cannot be overstated. I look forward to keeping an open dialogue as we work together to close the digital divide and promote universal opportunities for all.