Diversity Matters at the FCC

by Guest Contributor on February 20, 2012

Despite the exponential growth of minorities in America, diversity in technology continues to lag.  Participation in the telecommunications industry has fared even worse.

But there is good news:  the FCC’s Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age is trying to change that.

The need for the Diversity Committee at the FCC

“To grow and continue to provide services needed by the American people, the communications sector needs to tap the strength and vibrancy that flows from the diversity of the American people,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell after creating the Diversity Committee in 2003.

The political winds have not always allowed for an emphasis on its mission to increase diversity of ownership or to create employment opportunities in the communications sector. However, with high unemployment rates – especially among Hispanics and African Americans at 11 percent and 16 percent, respectively –  any proposal that  would create jobs has gained importance.

Besides the need to decrease minority unemployment, nowadays, diversity is important to the bottom line of American businesses.

According to the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission report, “Organizations which excel at leveraging diversity…will experience better financial performance in the long run than organizations which are not effective in managing diversity.”

But even outside of management and business ownership, lagging minority participation in technology can be detrimental to the development of the next generation of American innovators.  Without the means to connect through broadband, or even relate through more traditional telecom streams such as radio and television, minorities will find it difficult to find jobs, develop and grow their small businesses, educate themselves, or find vital healthcare information.

Despite this data, few organizations, private or governmental, in any industry, have successfully developed proposals for diversification…until now.

Making Diversity Happen

Since its inception, the Diversity Committee began making an impact on the digital divide – a term referring to the gap between individuals of different socio-economic circumstances  vίs-a-vίs access to communications technologies.

Following the leadership of its first chair, communications industry entrepreneur Julia Johnson, the Committee recommended ways to diversify ownership of FM radio stations, as well as proposed tax incentives for diversity improvements and supplier diversity initiatives.

Today, the Committee is continuing to make a greater impact.  Current Chair Henry Rivera is a former FCC Commissioner (also the first Hispanic FCC Commissioner), who has nearly 40 years of legal experience in the telecom industry.  In addition to chairing MMTC, Rivera was also named one of the top 12 telecom experts in the U.S.

Under his leadership in 2009, the Committee developed the National Broadband Plan, which focused on broadband adoption, education, and training for low-income and minority families.  Also, programs assisting underprivileged communities with access to telephone and Internet services such as E-Rate, Lifeline, and Linkup have also helped to close the digital divide and form partnerships with national nonprofits that help promulgate awareness and demand for broadband for minorities and lower income families.

The Committee made one of its most exciting recommendations in 2010, when  it recommended the establishment of an incubator program designed to help promote minority station ownership.

The Future of Digital Diversity

With the recently re-chartered Diversity Committee, there is no doubt that digital barriers will continue to be broken.

Retaining accomplished advocates such as Chairman Henry Rivera, the Diversity Committee has added some of the nation’s greatest proponents of digital diversity to their cadre.

Notable members include David Honig, president and co-founder of MMTC; Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, director of the Media and Technology Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and José Marquez, president/CEO and founder of Latinos in Information Sciences and Technology Association.

The Diversity Committee’s Future

We have yet to see just how much of an impact the Diversity Committee will have on the future of minorities in telecom. But given its history, mission and talent, it is certain the Committee will be instrumental in continuing to propose legislation and programs that close the digital divide, create opportunities for minorities and disadvantaged people, and promote education, awareness, job creation, and stability.

For the sake of our country’s future economic development, we can only hope that is the case.

Justin Vélez-Hagan is Senior Contributing Writer and Commentator for Politic365.com.  He is also the National Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, an international developer of senior living facilities, and is a reservist in the U.S. Air Force.

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    It’s great that the FCC has a diversity committee, but I still read so much about all the problems with diversity in the communications industry, lack of minority entrepreneurship, a relative few voices speaking for millions of blacks Hispanics and Asians….The committee seems all well and good and well intentioned and all that but does the FCC actually listen to them??

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