Are New Rules Needed for a New Communications Industry?

by Kenneth Mallory on February 10, 2013

Frustrated BusinessmanMinorities and women are continuing to experience significant challenges in the media and telecommunications industry.  Dwindling diversity and the growing use of new technologies, among other issues, are prodding many to consider whether new rules and policies are needed to respond to them.

In broadcast media, for example, minorities and women own low numbers of radio and television stations, as demonstrated by a recent FCC report illustrating commercial broadcast ownership.

In the telecommunications space, meeting the demand for greater spectrum for broadband-based technologies has become a priority for policymakers as Americans, and minorities especially, are using spectrum-based technologies like mobile wireless service at a remarkably high rate.

Several stakeholders have participated in policy forums to weigh these issues.

At a recent panel titled “How to Generate Diverse Participation in the Telecom and Internet Spaces,” held at MMTC’s recent Broadband and Social Justice Summit and moderated by NAACP General Counsel Kim Keenan, a group of leaders spoke of what they believed were the most “pivotal changes” in the communications industries and how to promote greater diversity in them.

The panelists included FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell; National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Executive Director and General Counsel  James L. Winston; National Association of Broadcasters Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jane Mago; and, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Media and Technology Institute Vice President and Director  John Horrigan, Ph.D.

Several panelists cited the growing use of smartphones by minorities and the increasing digitization of technologies as major changes.

The panelists also spoke of the need for the FCC to implement policies that could foster greater diversity.  Some also spoke of the need for Congress to reestablish the tax certificate policy, which led to increases in the number of minorities owning broadcast and cable stations when it was previously in place.

As the FCC prepares to release its media ownership review order, Commissioner McDowell spoke of the need for the Commission to complete its “diversity studies” to “to determine the best approaches to increase media diversity and whether race- and or gender-based rules are legally sustainable under the Constitution.”

McDowell also remarked that the Commission should consider several race-neutral proposals currently pending before it.

“Some of these proposals are outside the context of the media ownership proceeding or need Congressional action, but we should move forward as best we can,” he said.

Many are pushing for Congress to create a new Telecommunications Act that would address diversity concerns and provide a framework better suited to respond to new technologies.

However, Mago said that implementing a new Telecommunications Act could take some time.

“I’ve been in Washington for a fairly long time, and I’ve seen Congress has been taking up all of these tasks for many years,” said Mago.  “I’ve watched as they tried to develop the 1996 Telecom Act and I remember that starting somewhere in the middle of the 1980s, so I have no reason to believe that the kind of total reform that most people are thinking about has any possibility of making it through this particular Congress … maybe two down the road … would be sort of where my prediction would be.”

  • Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has freelanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.

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