Several studies conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project last year found that a growing number of minorities are participating in the new digital media culture by using both wired and wireless broadband connections. Minorities have long been marginalized in the analog media sector, and new media platforms have the potential to erase many of the racial disparities that have plagued traditional media for far too long.
These sentiments were echoed by Black Voice News (BVN), a print-based media outlet that has published minority news content for nearly 40 years. An article on BVN’s Web site noted that the recession has led to a significant decrease in advertising revenue for its print publication. BVN’s solution to this problem is to invest in technology. Going forward, BVN will shift its focus away analog media and toward new digital media platforms, which will allow the company to revamp its image and engage a larger minority audience. For media outlets like BVN, this new approach is essential to ensuring that minorities are able to participate in the new media revolution.
Unfortunately, several obstacles stand in the way of more robust media diversity in the broadband age. The largest impediment is the low broadband adoption rate among African Americans, Hispanics, and low-income households. Although a growing number of minorities are using broadband to participate in the new media revolution, more than half of all African Americans and Hispanics remain without a high-speed Internet connection. These opportunities are only available to those who have adopted and actively use broadband at home or on a wireless device.
An equally formidable impediment to more diversity in the emerging digital media sector relates to wireless broadband networks. African Americans and Hispanics are the most avid users of mobile data services, but without additional spectrum resources, carriers will be unable to provide more robust mobile connectivity. This spectrum crunch facing the nation will have a disproportionately negative impact on minorities if left unresolved.
Minority participation in digital media will also be negatively impacted by a failure to address the nation’s spectrum crisis. As Pew observed in one of its recent reports, “[B]lacks and Hispanics have significantly higher proportional viewership [of online video] on their cell phones [than whites]. In addition, they are more likely to record a video, and more likely than whites to post a video,” often via a mobile device. For these and many other reasons, MMTC supports President Obama’s goal of increasing available spectrum resources by 500MHz, which will immediately bolster network connectivity in many areas with majority-minority populations.
In the 21st century, true media diversity is attainable. Digital platforms will be critical in helping to equalize minority participation in both the digital and analog media sectors. They will also assure diversity in the production, dissemination, and consumption of minority-focused content. But these opportunities are only available to broadband adopters, and many outlets for participating in the emerging minority media sector could be compromised if the spectrum crisis is not addressed immediately.
Policymakers must work on several fronts to support further development of new media platforms and encourage more minority participation. Minority rights advocates must also work to ensure that more African Americans, Hispanics, and low-income households are adopting broadband and learning how to use it effectively. MMTC is doing its part as a member of the Broadband Opportunity Coalition, which has partnered with One Economy to launch a first-in-kind national broadband awareness campaign. Working together, we can achieve true media diversity in a nation that desperately needs it.
David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.