The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s second-annual Broadband & Social Justice Summit is officially underway.
The first day of the Summit has brought together leaders from the public and private sectors, including entrepreneurs, bloggers, and members of the civil rights community, to have an open discussion about the digital divide and brainstorm solutions to bridge the gap.
An invocation by Reverend Jesse Jackson and the remarks of Congressman Cliff Stearns, Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and Congressman Bobby Rush, ranking member of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, set the tone of the Summit to be informative and influential.
The Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Congressman Stearns gently chastised the Federal Communications Commission for failure to comply with Section 257.
“I will be also looking at some of the areas that I think my good friend Bobby Rush was involved with. As you know, Bobby Rush serves on the Telecommunications Committee, and he was instrumental in getting Section 257, which focuses on the FCC’s attention on the deregulation of burdensome regulations,” said Stearns. “At this point, the FCC is supposed to come back and give us an answer to whether the FCC is obeying Section 257, but they’re not. They have been very slow in their response, and this is a very questionable area that I think is an oversight I could look at.”
MMTC President David Honig remarked that “Congressman Stearns has backbone. He has eloquently called the FCC to task for its noncompliance with a statute aimed at promoting minority business opportunity. And he did this in a speech to a national civil rights organization. I am deeply impressed and really quite moved.”
Beyond the FCC’s shortcomings, Congressman Stearns illustrated the opportunities created by broadband that flourish in a democratic, free-market system. For example, at a House Hearing in 2007, when Congressman Stearns asked about what our digital future will look like, the response from Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, painted a picture of touch-screen desks with hologram communications; a future where your personal finances, health information, and schedule are all compressed into one location such that, years from now, you can look back and immediately know what you did on any given day.
The future is approaching fast. As reliance upon traditional media declines, more people are turning to broadband to get their message out.
Unfortunately, according to Congressman Stearns, several barriers exist that impede progress to Berners-Lee’s predictions. First is broadband regulation, which, says Stearns, should be handled by Congress to prevent market uncertainty. Uncertainty in the market would cause companies to scale back investment and hinder the growth of broadband. Prior to regulating broadband, Stearns proposes that the FCC conduct a rigorous cost-benefit market analysis.
Second, due to the failure to map where the unserved and underserved communities were prior to awarding grants under the broadband stimulus programs, the stimulus package – which had a chance to be very successful – was not.
It is incumbent on members of Congress, local leaders, and civil rights organizations to ensure that every person understands the importance of broadband, the implications of broadband for our future, and ultimately to get everyone connected to broadband.
Congressman Stearns’s goal is to point out where improvements can be made: “As we start this session as a member in the majority, having been in the minority before, my whole goal is not necessarily to point out what’s bad, it’s to point out ways to improve things so that in the end Americans will get hope. We’re not looking here just trying to beat up on the Administration or to criticize them so much as we’re trying to say there’s a better way and there’s a better way we can do it together. So, that is the intent of what I hope to do in my service as Chairman of the Oversight Committee.”
This means that the FCC needs to free up more spectrum and find the right incentives to make the market work.
Congressman Bobby Rush, who was instrumental in implementing the original tax certificate policy and calling the FCC to task for failing to fulfill their obligations to submit their Section 257 Report, is focused on minority businesses.
Promoting minority ownership in the telecommunications industry is good for students, it is good for businesses, and it is very good for the economy.
Minority owned businesses are far more inclined to recruit, train, and mentor minority employees and to locate their businesses in minority communities. With the education crisis and employment statistics, we need to use minority businesses to stimulate the economy. To boost businesses and our economy, we need to engage our youth in STEM education. They should be aware of the leading minority scientists and their accomplishments, seeking to emulate their excellence, more than they aspire to be “like Mike.”
Minority ownership is growing overall. Between 2002 and 2007, minority ownership grew by just over 45%. These companies will be crucial to bridging the gap to close the digital divide.
Congressman Rush also seeks to ensure that wireless users have opportunities to be more than passive consumers of recreational devices, so that they can participate fully in the digital society.
As a member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, Congressman Rush intends to vigorously promote minority businesses in the telecommunications industry.
Today’s remarks set the tone of the conference and gave us high hopes that Friday’s discussion will bring about some real solutions for policymakers and civil rights organizations to bridge the digital divide.
Jacqueline Clary is the John W. Jones Fellow at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. In this position, she focuses on a variety of policy issues to advance minority participation in the media and telecommunications industries. Ms. Clary earned her B.A. from John Carroll University, her J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, and is a member of the New York State Bar.