Louisiana is in crisis. We must take action now to create hope, jobs and opportunities — we must move our state into the digital economy.

Before we look ahead at that future, let’s assess Louisiana’s present condition:

• African-American unemployment stands at Depression-era levels — 16 percent statewide, much worse in some locations.

• Health care is expensive — too much so for some residents — costs are rising and access to doctors is not equal for all.

• Well-paying jobs are disappearing, and many may never return.

These conditions are unacceptable. They paint a picture of hopelessness, and that is not the future I want for Louisiana. We can do better, and with the right strategy we can get this economy moving and create new opportunities.

The key to our future is broadband.

We need to increase the adoption and use of broadband technology in every household and business. Universal adoption of broadband Internet by African Americans will transform our economy and our state.

With universal broadband adoption and use throughout our state, the people of Louisiana can use the Internet to connect to markets, to run businesses and to create jobs. It is a powerful equalizer, creating opportunities for all, not just for those with inherited wealth and access to capital.

Broadband can create first-class digital citizenship for everyone through connections to learning, to vital information, to our government, to each other.

Broadband can give every out-of-work adult access to online education, no matter if you live in a city, on a farm or along the deepest bayou.

Broadband provides new access to health-care providers and to medical information.

And with good corporate citizenship, broadband can save lives. AT&T demonstrated this in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita by deploying more than $1.1 billion in the recovery, including rapid deployment of emergency communications, long-term investments in improved telecommunications infrastructure and support for charitable organizations that provide emergency services.

That’s just some of what broadband can do.

And what can we do?

We can make sure that every family, every household, every business in Louisiana has a chance at this new future.

We can get there, if we take action now.

Let’s empower ourselves with the new tools of the digital age. Let’s ensure everyone is taking full advantage of broadband and what it offers. And let’s reap the benefits of full participation in the new digital economy.

Ernest Johnson, president

La. State Conference of NAACP branches

Baton Rouge