FCC Diversity Panel Discusses Challenges, Solutions to Broadband Adoption

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age met this week to discuss its progress and decide upon future actions. It also reviewed data showcasing minority groups’ use of broadband and other media delivery

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity for Communications in the Digital Age met this week to discuss its progress and decide upon future actions.

After Chairman Henry Rivera’s opening remarks, Thomas Reed, chief of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities, spoke about conducting studies that would show the current state of the minority population’s involvement with the economy. He also talked about a web site his office is developing that would provide constituents with information about new media and using the internet to run a business.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also joined the meeting, where she urged the committee to take more action to create more diversity within the communications industry. She urged the committee to look at ways for minority and women owners of small businesses to get spectrum through merger applications, a process that has been made difficult for these owners previously.

She cited difficulties resulting from the Verizon-Alltel merger, saying that the commission should require Verizon to work with small and local providers, and that not merely encouraging Verizon is enough action.

“There is a modest amount of frustration with the committee that there does not seem to be a lot of progress,” she said. “I think we would like to see some more progress. We need to get moving on some of these recommendations.”

After the committee reviewed its business agenda, two groups presented material about specific ethnic groups in the United States. BET Networks gave a presentation about African-American Media Consumption Trends, and ZeroDivide gave a presentation about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and broadband.

Debra Lee, chairman and CEO of BET, Scott Mills, president and COO of BET, and Matthew Barnhill, senior vice president of research, presented BET Networks’ research. The research showed that 32 percent of African Americans’ weekly media hours are spent on the internet, and 26 percent are spent watching television. They also watch more television than any other ethnicity, and their TV usage exceeds all other ethnicities at every hour of the week. BET Networks say that they are targeting their television programming to encourage use of the internet by holding online contests and producing shows that can only be viewed online.

In regards to broadband adoption, African Americans lag behind the general population, with a 59 percent adoption rate in comparison to the general population’s 67 percent. Within the African American community, the adoption rates for those with low income was 45 percent, the elderly 36 percent, and high school drop-outs were 27 percent.

Three different studies, done by the FCC, the Joint Center and the Pew Foundation, showed that the lack of relevance was the leading cause of non-adoption of broadband for African Americans.

However, while adoption rates may be less within the African American community, those African Americans who are broadband-connected exceed all other ethnicities in Web 2.0 usage. In a study that compares blacks and whites, blacks update their status, download music, stream videos, and watch TV shows on the Internet more than whites.

BET Networks said that in “recognizing the broadband adoption challenges for the most vulnerable members of the African American community,” it has submitted a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in the area of Sustainable Broadband Adoption. It proposes to fund a public-private partnership to drive adoption among African Americans. In a multi-platform campaign, it plans to target non-adopters for two years across all of their network programming, including television, online, mobile, video on-demand, and in market, and will measure effectiveness as they campaign unfolds.

It also aims to increase digital literacy through local efforts and community outreach programs in targeted locations, citing the training of youth in these technologies. Lastly, the grant application proposes an African American “Life Portal,” which would contain online content specifically generated towards African American health issues, education, and job training information.

Laura Efurd, vice president and chief community investment officer for ZeroDivide, presented ZeroDivide’s focus on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ broadband usage, which mainly concentrated on the lack of research, and therefore information, about this ethnic group.

Asian Americans make up 5.4 percent of the U.S. population, but they are mainly concentrated in 10 states. This makes getting data about Asian American populations through surveys very difficult, because in the other 40 states there are not enough Asian Americans to make up a sample size.

Other research problems include language barriers, since two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born. The Asian American community also includes people from different Asian countries, so the entire community cannot be treated in the same manner. Since Asian Americans are one of the fastest-growing racial groups in the United States, making up one-third of legal immigrants, ZeroDivide says that inclusive research methods need to be developed.

As a part of a study on broadband adoption and use in America, ZeroDivide cited an FCC survey that included all Americans, but did not include Asian Americans, American Indians, or Alaskan natives in their results because there were not enough of them in each survey group. The FCC document said, “The first two groups in particular have a sizable population that may not speak English or that have low telephone penetration rates. Because of that and the small sample of respondents, it is inadvisable to report results.”

Upon concluding the presentation, committee member Toni Cook Bush and Chairman Rivera agreed to look into the problem and develop a solution.

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