[ Text | Word97 ]

BEING FIRST IS NOT ENOUGH

Speech by

WILLIAM E. KENNARD, CHAIRMAN

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

BEFORE THE

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MINORITIES IN COMMUNICATIONS

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Monday, September 13, 1999


Thank you very much.

Itís great to be here and thank you, Joe, for that wonderful introduction.

I also want to acknowledge two people who are here with me from the FCC. Deborah Lathen, the Chief of the Cable Services Bureau at the FCC, is here. I hope everybody in this room gets to know Deborah. She is a dynamo and I am just so pleased that she is the chief of the Cable Bureau.

Also with us today is Arthur Scrutchins, who is with the Mass Media Bureau at the FCC. Art knows a great deal about the cable industry, having served as a Walter Kaitz Foundation fellow.

I also want to thank Joe Lawson for introducing me as the first African American Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I say that because not long ago I was introduced by a man who gave me a very nice introduction. He talked about a lot of my accomplishments as Chairman of the FCC. Then at the end of this long and very kind introduction he says, "and Chairman Kennard happens to be the first African-American Chairman of the FCC."

Now I have never heard an African-American refer to himself or herself as someone who happens to be African-American. It is an interesting term of art in our society. Of course, I have heard it before, and it is well meaning. It is an effort by people to not define someone by the color of their skin. Nevertheless, it struck me as strange when I heard myself introduced that way, because I do know one thing. I did not come to this job as Chairman of the FCC because I happen to be African-American. I came to this job because I am African-American.

I came to this job, like you, as a product of the success, not only of our teachers and our mentors and, of course, our parents, but as a product of the success of black people. I am very proud of that fact.

Iím proud of the fact that I stand on the shoulders of many people who, for many years persisted, cajoled, and protested. These are people who, as late as 1997, went to Washington when there was a vacancy in the Chairmanship in the FCC. They went to Vice President Al Gore and President Clinton. They said, "We think itís unacceptable that thereís never been an African-American Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission." Al Gore and President Clinton have been very successful in designing an administration that does reflect the diversity of our nation. They listened.

The people who went to Washington and insisted on this were organizations like the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Bar Association and the National Association of Minorities in Communications. I am here to thank you for that.

I look around this room this morning, and I know that there are many "firsts" in this audience. I certainly am not the only one. There are many first general managers, first sales managers, first general counsels, and so on. The challenge of those of us who are first is that we are judged not only by the standard of excellence in our professions and our careers, like everybody else. As minorities who are first, we have the additional challenge of making sure that we are creating a path for others to follow.

The true challenge of being first is to make sure that you are not the last, and that we open the pathways for others that will follow. As the first African-American Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, this challenge has meant doing my job differently than my predecessors. When I was appointed to this job, I made a point of meeting with those available who had been Chairman of the FCC before me. I gathered them together, and I talked to them about the job and got some of their insights.

I will never forget one of my predecessors said to me, "Bill, you know, youíve got to understand that most of the controversies before the FCC are really fights between the rich on the one hand and the very wealthy on the other hand." He said there are fights over big money, and he said it is easy to see your job as moving money from the rich to the very wealthy. In other words, the job could be just moving money around.

I knew I could not spend my time doing that. It is quite easy at the FCC in my job to spend all your time sitting in Washington. As Chairman, you do not have to leave Washington. People come to you, but they are people who are paid to talk to you. Some of you, good lawyers and lobbyists, are probably in this audience. I am not trying to insult you, but you know that that is the way the process tends to work.

I decided I wanted to have a very different kind of chairmanship. I wanted to see, firsthand, how technology is working in the lives of people in the homes, schools and businesses of all Americans. I have a made a point of reaching out to people who really had not been touched before by the FCC, including the education community, the disability community, the non-English speaking communities, minority entrepreneurs, and minority employees. I have done this because I truly believe that the most important job that you can do as Chairman of the FCC is to reach out and give a voice to people who are not otherwise going to have a voice at the agency.

We all know that today in Washington it is hard to have your voice heard if you donít have a great deal of money. I say that with a certain amount of regret, but itís true. The decision we at the FCC have made to reach out and touch new constituencies has enriched not only our decision making, but I also have found that it has enriched my life in immeasurable ways. I have had incredible experiences during my tenure as Chairman of the FCC.

One of the first experiences was among my most profound. I was invited to visit the Chairman and CEO of Lucent Technologies in New Jersey. I decided that since I was going to be in that area of the country I would call a friend of mine, Donald Payne, who was then Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He took me to an elementary school in Newark, New Jersey, in one of the poorest areas of that city. That elementary school was creating a computer lab. I had the opportunity, the privilege really, to help the teachers in that school inaugurate that computer lab.

During that same visit, I had the opportunity to sit down next to a young man by the name of John, a nine-year old boy. I taught him how to use the Internet for the very first time in his life. We booted up the computer and I showed him how to access web sites. We went to the FCC web site and my picture came up. I said, "So John what do you think about this?" He said, "Itís boring."

I took him to other sites, and we looked at displays of cars, and at some historical materials. After about a half-hour, I said, "John, now what do you think about this Internet?" And this young man looked at me. His face just lit up, and he smiled and said, "Itís so cool. Itís so fast. Itís so much better than books."

Of course, we do not want young people like John abandoning books. It did occur to me, however, that in that instant that young man had summed up what this communications revolution is all about. This revolution is fundamentally changing the way people in our society access information and process information. I left that school thinking that what happened to that boy that day in that school in Newark, New Jersey, could change the course of his life.

That is why we have fought so very hard at the FCC for programs like the e-rate, to bring technology into our nationís schools, including to the poorest and most rural schools in America.

Last year we spent $1.7 billion to wire the schools and libraries of our country. This year we will spend about two and a quarter billion dollars. With that money, we will wire an additional 600,000 classrooms to the Internet. We will touch 40 million American school children.

It has not been easy. Many people wanted to shut us down. They said, "No, we cannot afford to do this right now."

Thanks to the help of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, the Vice President, and the cable industry, however, we have been supported every step of the way. We are using the e-rate right now. Itís successful. Itís working. And we are helping to close the digital divide.

This issue of access is not just an issue for children in our inner cities. It is an issue for people in rural America who care very deeply about the digital divide. It affects them profoundly.

I had the opportunity to go to Alaska last year with Senator Ted Stevens. I was in one of these small airplanes, which they call bush planes, because they take you into the bush country. I wanted to see, firsthand, how people were dealing with technology, or the lack thereof, in the bush country of Alaska.

I was sitting in the cockpit next to the pilot. For someone who doesnít like to fly in a little plane, this was not a comfortable place. I was talking to the pilot, who was exactly my age. He told me about growing up in the bush country of Alaska and how he did not have a telephone. He did not have a television. He saw television only once a year, when his family went to Anchorage to do shopping. He looked at me and said, "Mr. Chairman, please do whatever you can to make sure that my children have access to technology so that when they grow up they wonít have to leave Alaska -- the land of our ancestors."

So we are working with Senators like Ted Stevens and others who care deeply about bringing technology to rural America.

Nowhere is the issue of the digital divide more important than on the Indian reservations in the United States. On average, ninety-four percent of Americans have telephone service. This is an incredible statistic. Itís the envy of the rest of the world. There are places in America, however, where less than fifty percent of the people have access to a telephone. We are not talking about advanced technologies, such as broadband high-speed access. We are talking about a telephone to call your doctor or your childís school, or to call an ambulance.

Earlier this year I was at a computer convention in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was on a panel with some very senior executives from AT&T, on the one hand, and At Home on the other hand. We were talking about the important issue of access to a cable platform. The debate was heated. People were literally pounding the table, about how we were going to best create policies to bring high speed internet access into the homes of America.

As the arbiter of this decision, I really didnít want to say much. So I said, "Time out. Weíre talking here about how to bring another megabit of speed into suburban homes in America. Yet, we sit less than an hour away from where there are thousands of people on the Gila River Indian Reservation who are still waiting for a dial tone, still waiting for a telephone." I said, "Weíll have this debate about broadband, and itís an important debate, but if you really want to do something to bridge the digital divide, come with me to the Gila Indian Reservation. Iíd love for you to bring your talent and your expertise and your wealth to help those people. After the panel I was standing in the lobby of this hotel and all these people came up to me and they said, "letís go. Letís go to Gila River." And so, we went.

We drove up to this dusty little Indian reservation outside of Scottsdale, Arizona. I had a caravan of black Lincoln Town Cars behind me. I was the Pied Piper out there. I had AT&T, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, Motorola, and North Point.

We had a wonderful meeting. We met with the tribal leaders. We talked about how we can bring basic telephone service to that part of the country. I am very proud to say, things are beginning to happen there. I am very proud about that.

The digital divide is also a huge issue for Americans with disabilities. Fifty-four million Americans have disabilities in this country. As technology increasingly defines our potential in society, those who do not have access to it are seriously challenged. When we order services over the telephone today, we immediately confront the interactive voice-mail menus, where we can press different keys for different options. If you have a disability in America, such as impaired hearing, however, it is very difficult to make this technology work for you.

We at the FCC are committed to making sure that as a matter of national policy, no American with a disability is excluded from access to telecommunications facilities. In July of this year, we adopted what are really ground-breaking rules to make sure that all technology is accessible to all Americans, including Americans with disabilities. I decided that we would have the meeting to adopt those rules on July 14, Bastille Day, because I wanted us to literally tear down the walls and allow Americans with disabilities access to telecommunications. This includes access not just as consumers, but also as employees and as owners.

Now letís talk about creating opportunities in the cable industry. Iíll never forget what Bob Johnson once told me. When he first started Black Entertainment Television, and attended meetings at the National Cable Television Association, people whom he had never met would come up to him say, "Oh, you must be Bob Johnson." We laugh about it now. We realize that we have made a lot of progress since those days, but we also have a long way to go.

I want to thank NAMIC and especially itís president, Joe Lawson, for his courage and his leadership in conducting a very important survey on the status of minorities in the cable industry. NAMIC has documented that minorities are seriously under-represented in the cable industry, particularly, in the top echelons of this business. NAMICís study, which surveyed forty eight percent of the cable industry workforce, determined that of the six top MSOs, only six members of a minority group, all men, were in the uppermost management.

There is a great deal of work to be done, and good work is being done. The Walter Kaitz Foundation does a wonderful job of bringing minorities into entry level opportunities in the cable industry. The Patrick Melon Mentorship Program does, also. These are, however, entry level opportunities.

We, in government and industry, have to focus collectively on finding ways to move minorities and women into the upper echelons, into the executive suites, and into the boardrooms. I am committed to this. I am convinced that when the cable industry sets its mind to doing something, things get done. We saw the cable industry make changes in its customer service record in the last decade. Customer service was once poor. The cable industry made an effort to turn the situation around, and it has turned around. This industry decided that it would make a commitment to bring technology to the schools, and now you have cable in the classrooms. It is a process that starts from the top.

This industry is poised to do great things. The cable industry is poised to be a major participant in what will be a wonderful broadband future for America. I am convinced that that is going to happen. I would like to see this industry make the same commitment to bringing diversity to the upper ranks of its industry.

I know that if leaders like Leo Hindery and Gerry Levin set their minds to this task, and commit the necessary energy and the resources to this task, it will get done.

The cable industry has certainly discovered the purchasing power in minority communities. The NAMIC survey tells us that African Americans subscribe to premium cable channels at a rate twice that of white consumers. Hispanic Americans subscribe at rates about 35% greater than white subscribers.

Cable has discovered the value of the purchasing power of minority consumers. It is time the executive suites of the cable industry better reflect the communities they serve.

We know this is good business. By the middle of the next century, fifty percent of the country will be non-white. I am convinced we would not be having this national debate that we are having today, about the virtual absence of minorities in prime time television, if the people making the decisions about those programs better reflected the makeup of this nation.

I believe this type of change will happen. It will happen in the cable industry if the leaders of this industry make a meaningful commitment to change. It will happen if these leaders work with NAMIC, if they work with us at the FCC, and if they commit the resources necessary to create opportunity in the upper echelons, in the boardrooms, and in the executive suites.

I believe there are several steps that can be taken. The cable industry can support NAMICís proposal for a mentoring and executive leadership program, and it can commit the resources to making that happen. It can build on the proven success of the Kaitz Foundation and the Melon Mentoring Program. We know that those programs work to bring young people into entry-level jobs in cable. The subsequent challenge is to make sure that these young people stay, and that they do not have to leave the industry in order to achieve.

We can, for example, support the tax certificate program. I have been working with the broadcasting industry on this program. The broadcasting industry, as many of you know, asked for the tax certificate program in the late nineteen seventies, and it was enacted. We know that the tax certificate has worked. It has created unprecedented opportunities for minorities on the broadcast side and some opportunities on the cable side. It is time to bring the tax certificate program back. The industry can work with the FCC to reinstate meaningful EEO rules and requirements.

We have accomplished a great deal at the FCC in the last two years. There is much more that we have to do, and much more that I want to get accomplished. All of us are fortunate to be able to witness, not only the changing of the millennium, but also the transformation of the global economy from an industrial age to an information age -- from an analog world to a digital world. Those of us in this room are especially fortunate, because as communications professionals, we are at the very center of it. We understand it. Weíre at the heart of it. The transition to an information age is the single most important paradigm shift in our lifetime. This shift is the most important event going on in our economy.

Recently I spoke in Orlando to a radio convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. I made the point that the radio business is feeling the effects of the Internet as people turn on the Internet in order to listen to radio today. The Internet is breaking down the barriers of distance that we have had in the radio business for a long time.

Afterwards this radio station owner came up to me and said, "I understand that this is a paradigm shift, Mr. Chairman, but youíve also got to understand that this is shifting revenue away from local radio stations." I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Well, shift happens."

That was shift, by the way -- s - h - i - f - t. We do have the potential to harness the power of this great transition and bring this nation together. We can use it to bridge the divides of race, income, and class that have been so vexing to us as a nation for so long.

This economy, this new digital economy, already is being defined by the power of technology to transform markets, to unlock new markets, and to revolutionize retailing in this country. Our challenge, as minorities, is to make sure that this new economy also is defined in terms of its success in unlocking the potential of our people. That is our special challenge. As minorities in communications, you and I have unique opportunities to meet this challenge. We have the knowledge, we have the access, we have the insight, and collectively, working together, we can build footbridges over this digital divide, so that others can overcome this divide.

That is why I have fought very hard to make my chairmanship different, to make it more than about just being the first.

When I leave this job, I do not want people to say that I made a difference, and that I just happened to be the first.

I want people to say that I made a difference because I was the first, and that because of that, I will not be the last.

###