FCC Strategic Goals, Where is Diversity?

by Jacqueline Clary on February 24, 2012

If we were to give the FCC progress report, what do you suppose it would look like?  For universal service reform and broadband policy, I imagine the Commission would receive high marks for their initiatives and effort.

But what would the Commission’s marks be for diversity?  Absent?  Tardy?

It is no great secret that the Commission has a lot of work to do on its purported diversity goals.  And the court is taking note.  In Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC, the Third Circuit held that the Commission’s definition of eligible entities was arbitrary and capricious.   Reprimanding the Commission for its procrastination on examining proposals to define socially and economically disadvantaged businesses (SDBs), the court noted, “Stating that the task is difficult in light of Adarand does not constitute ‘considering’ proposals using an SDB definition.  The FCC’s own failure to collect or analyze data, and lay other necessary groundwork, may help to explain, but does not excuse its failure to consider the proposals presented over many years…”

There are a plethora of proposals pending before the Commission to promote diversity in the communications industries – some, like the proposal to use structural ownership rules to incentivize incubation of disadvantaged business, have been pending for more than 20 years.  More than a year has passed since the Media and Wireless Bureau released a notice of inquiry on a new designated entities proposal to create a preference in the competitive bidding process for those who have overcome substantial disadvantage.  Now, in the 2010 Quadrennial Regulatory Review, the Commission once again goes back to the drawing board to discuss gathering data to define eligible entities and to promote diversity.

Why hasn’t more been done?

Despite the Commission’s assurance that diversity, in all of its forms – “viewpoint, outlet, program, source, and minority and female ownership diversity” – is a key policy goal, the Commission’s lack of action and the resulting decline of minority ownership illustrate that diversity is should be a much higher priority.

One of the Commission’s strategic goals is to ensure its continual improvement, and a subset of that goal is to “[c]reate and sustain an organizational culture that encourages diversity, innovation, accountability, and continual improvement.”  One of the ways in which the Commission could reach this goal is to make diversity a strategic goal and to set benchmarks for progress.

Section 257 of the Communications Act requires the Commission to review and report on Commission’s regulatory efforts to identify and eliminate market entry barriers for small businesses and entrepreneurs every three years.  The last report covered 2007-2009; thus the Commission should be getting ready to prepare the next report to covering 2010-2012.  However, these reports are increasingly unduly delayed.

Instead of scrambling to compile a report detailing three years worth of regulatory actions, the Commission should use the barriers identified in the 257 Report to direct its strategic diversity goals.  In turn, by consistently addressing the issue and analyzing the benchmarks, the Commission will have a much easier time submitting its Triennial Reports to Congress.

When examining how to diversify the communications industries, perhaps the Commission could take the advice found in its own Diversity Advisory Committee’s 2004 “Best of the Best Report” on encouraging organizational diversity.  Among others, the best practices identified include support for diversity initiatives from the top level of the organization, clear communication about its initiatives, and setting specific goals and measurable evaluation.

It is past time for the Commission to stop dancing around diversity.  The Commission should evaluate its process for furthering diversity and begin implementing real change.

  • Jacqueline Clary

    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.

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  • Diversity Schmiversity

    The DIVERSITY is in their DIVERSITY COMMITTEE, duh! The Commission seems to think that it can point to it and say, “See?! Look at all the stuff we’re doing for minorities, we even have a diversity committee!”

    It would help if the FCC actually listened to it 🙂

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