ASCII Text Version | WordPerfect Version ]

Remarks of
William E. Kennard, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
at the
Annenberg Public Policy Center
Conference on Internet and the Family
Washington, DC
May 4, 1999

(as prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Joe, for that kind introduction and for inviting me to this conference.

Joe and his team at the University of Pennsylvania have put together a set of findings that really get to the heart of the Internet revolution as it is playing out in our nation's living rooms.

I think we too often get seduced by the statistics: 1.8 billion Internet users worldwide by 2005; over $3 billion in e-commerce sales last Christmas alone. But we never stop to think about how this new technology is truly changing how we live, how mothers and fathers parent, and how kids grow up.

Littleton has forced us to take pause and consider these issues. It's dangerously simplistic to say that one thing - nature, nurture, the media, technology -- caused these two boys to commit these horrific acts.

We will never know what caustic cocktail of factors led them to succumb to evil. But that does not mean that we can't, in our grief, examine who we are as a society and where we are heading as we cross the digital frontier and venture deeper and deeper into the Information Age.

This study released today gives us one of the most thorough and incisive looks into how the Internet is affecting the American family. And the picture we see is one of a nation of parents excited but confused, fascinated but bewildered, intrigued but frightened.

They are optimistic about what this technology can do for their children, but they find getting a handle on it a daunting task.

On one hand, over three-quarters of parents who have a computer in the home are concerned that their children may give out private, personal information or be exposed to sexually explicit material.

On the other hand, an equal number of parents told Joe and his researchers that the Internet is a place for their kids to discover "fascinating and useful things."

84 percent of parents with on-line kids said that the Web helps their children with their homework. And in perhaps the biggest endorsement of this technology, 60 percent of parents believe that kids who don't have Internet access are at a disadvantage.

Parents are excited about the opportunities that lie in the Internet's wires and webpages, but they are also overwhelmed by a medium that seems too vast to control and too complicated to understand.

Listen to this: 68 percent of parents who have computers, but are not yet on-line, admit to being total Internet beginners. This the group most ready to connect to the Internet.

They don't have the foggiest idea what a URL or an IM is. To them, bandwidth only concerns their style of watch. They are what the techies call "newbies."

Now, to me, this is not just a faceless statistic. Last week, I met with 150 teenagers from all over rural America who had come to Washington for their spring break.

We talked about what happened in Littleton. And I asked these young people how many of them regularly use the Internet. Almost every hand went up.

Then I asked them how many of them talk to their parents about what they do once they are on the Internet. Three hands went up.

One young woman said that she would talk to her mother about it, but her mother just doesn't understand the technology at all.

Now, it doesn't mean that parents don't care or are uninterested in what their kids do. It's just that in a very real sense the old teenage complaint is true: parents just don't understand.

This gap between the old and the young is just another canyon in the digital divide. It's a chasm that threatens to divide our country in ways that we can't afford.

Perhaps it is inevitable with any new technology that kids will pick up the new, faster and easier. I mean I am still helping my mother program her VCR. But with the Internet, the stakes are higher. With its reach and its bounty of information, the Internet is even tougher to understand and navigate.

But it's vital that we close this gap.

It's vital because the world-wide web is just the cusp of a huge revolution in technology and entertainment. In a few short years, personalized, interactive, digital entertainment will be the norm, and will be delivered to our homes and our cars in any number of ways.

Digital TV and radio broadcasts will be able to beam us data of all sorts. Cable TV will bring high-speed Internet connections to our homes making the Information Highway that we know today seem like a rutted, dirt road.

And satellite and wireless will bring all the information in the web - from stock quotes to the morning paper to the Bible - to our cars, personal digital assistants, and watches. Everything will be the Internet.

So, what can we do to make sure that this amazing technology that can uplift, inspire, and enlighten does not end up fomenting hate and evil among our children?

Last week, I had a speaking engagement in Denver. It was made months ago, at a time when Columbine High School was -- thankfully -- only known for its band and its merit scholars. As the speech approached, I knew that I had to speak about Littleton. But what could you say? I agonized over this. I lost sleep.

Then, I saw Katie Couric's interview with Isaiah Shoels's father. Isaiah - as the entire nation now knows -- was one of the most popular kids in Columbine High School.

He was a good athlete, a student leader, and one of the few black kids in the entire school. His potential was limitless. But he was gunned down because he was an athlete, because he was a leader, and clearly because he was African-American.

I watched that interview with Isaiah's father, and it brought tears to my eyes. But it also gave me hope.

Mr. Shoels said that what we need to do is inject ourselves into the lives of our children. His advice was so simple, yet so true. Of course, he's right. Part of the solution lies in how we talk to our children in our living rooms, at our kitchen tables, and in our churches

But that can't be the only solution.

Certainly there must be more that we can do as a national community to carve out a space in our society so that we can nourish the best in our children. There must be something that we can do that protects our children and respects our cherished values of free expression.

What we can do - and must do - is give parents the tools they need so that they can be better parents. We need to empower them with the technology and information they need so that they can monitor and control what their children see.

Parents - the people who know their children the best - need to be the ones to make these decisions, not people sitting in Washington.

That's why we need filtering software for families to use on their PC's. Just as you wouldn't send a child off alone in a big city, you wouldn't - and shouldn't - let them explore the vast landscape of the Internet without a chaperone.

Now, the Annenberg study tells us that 32 percent of on-line families use some type of protective software. I don't know if Joe and his team asked this, but I am sure that the other two-thirds of the on-line families would like to use this software. But either they don't know it exists, how it works, or where to get it.

See, what Joe found in his survey is something that I know in my gut. Most parents are good parents. They talk to their kids. They're involved in their schoolwork. They know their friends. But when it comes to this new medium, it's just too unwieldly. And our kids know it so much better than parents that it seems impossible to control.

Today, the FCC is doing what it can to help parents. I am pleased to announce that we have added a "Parents, Kids, and Communications" information page to the FCC website.

In one easy-to-use, easy-to-find place - -- we have included information on a whole range of filtering software. With one click of the mouse, parents will be able to learn about these products, how they work, and how much they cost.

With one click of the mouse, parents will be able to take the steps they need to protect their kids. And we're not just helping with the Internet. We also included on the website information on how to block 1-900 calls and on how to get a cable "lock-box" to block out the channels that you don't want your children to see.

And that's why we also included a section explaining the TV ratings system and the V-chip. With the V-chip, parents can use the new TV ratings system to block programs that they don't want their kids to watch.

I am proud to say that because of the hard work of the President, Vice President, and Congress, two months from now, half of all new TV sets in this country will have this little silicon chip - the V-chip. And, by January 2000, all new TVs will have it.

But helping parents use technology in the home is only one part of using it responsibly. We also have to look at how the Internet is being used away from the home - in our nation's schools and libraries.

Over the past year, we have undertaken a national effort - the e-rate program -- to wire schools and libraries to the Internet. And, because of our hard work, 80,000 schools and libraries - schools and libraries that may never had the money to afford these connections - are now connected to the Internet.

In visiting schools across the country, I know that teachers, administrators, and parents are working hard to make sure that these Internet connections are used to enhance the educational experience, not distort it. But, whether in the living room or in the classroom, guiding a child through the Internet is a challenging task.

Recently, the Department of Commerce sent me a letter offering one way we can help. They suggested that as part of the technical plans that schools and libraries submit to us for e-rate money, should be an acceptable use plan on accessing the Internet.

To me, this idea makes a lot of sense. As schools around the country think about how they are going to use technology in the classroom, they should also think about how to use it responsibly.

We are going to ask for public comment on this idea because I am eager to hear the thoughts of parents, teachers, principals, and librarians on this issue.

We're beginning this process and undertaking all these efforts because as the government's expert on communication, we see it as our duty -- as guardians of the public interest -- to make information on innovations like the V-chip and filtering software available to America's parents.

And, we see it as our duty to keep up with the pace of technological change and devise tools that will help parents better understand and better use the technologies that will be shaping all our lives.

Working with parents and kids, professors and policy experts, the President and Congress, we want to help make the revolution in communications technology a manageable one.

Joe's study found that most government officials speak negatively about the Internet. I am not one of them. I believe in the promise of the Internet and interactive media. I believe in technology. I am one its biggest boosters.

As chairman of the FCC, I have been given a privileged seat in this Information Revolution. I see how it is transforming our schools, fueling our economy, and opening up doors of opportunity.

And I am confident that with this commonsense approach, we can make sure that this is the only side of the Internet that our children see. We can give our children the childhoods they deserve.

Thank you.