[ Text Version | WordPerfect Version | Word97 Version ]

Speech by Chairman William E. Kennard
Five Points Media Center Tribute Dinner
Denver, Colorado
April 28, 1999
"Giving Voice to the Voiceless"

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you Sharon for that kind introduction. And thanks to Kathy Kilstrom, the board of directors of Five Points, and all of you for this award.

I have to admit that I feel too young to receive a lifetime achievement award. But more than that, I feel very honored and very privileged to be able to receive this award tonight.

I also feel very privileged to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at a time when telecommunications is such a dynamic force in our economy and our world.

The power of telecommunications technology has emerged as a driving force in our economy today. One quarter of the growth of this economy comes from the communications and information sectors. It's one of the reasons that we are enjoying the longest peacetime expansion in our Nation's economic history.

It is fundamentally changing our economy. And, more importantly, it has the power to fundamentally change and improve the lives of young people.

That's why is it such an honor for me to be here with you tonight, and to visit the Five Points facility. And being here today, talking with Diane and all the hard-working staff there, it is clear that we approach our jobs in a similar way.

We believe that the incredible transformation that our country is undergoing from an industrial to an Information Age economy is one of the most profound changes of our lifetimes.

We understand the huge role that telecommunications is playing in this revolution. And we firmly believe that it is our job to reach out to those who may not have access to these technologies and the opportunities they hold.

So, you opened the Five Points Media Center not in a suburban campus and not in a fancy high-rise, but in the heart of the neighborhood that needs it the most.

As chairman of the FCC, I try to do the same thing.

You know, one of my predecessors once told me that lots of the regulatory fights before the FCC are really just battles between the rich and the very wealthy. Moving money from one pocket to another. You can have my job and spend every hour of every day inside the Beltway, meeting with the executives and industry lobbyists who press their cases at the agency.

Some chairman have done the job that way. I decided to do it differently.

Because I believe that my job is determine how I can best make this revolution in communications work for all Americans. Not just those who know how to be heard in Washington. Not just those who have the resources to hire the lawyers and the lobbyists. But those who would not be heard, unless I am there to speak for them -- to give a voice to the voiceless.

That is why, like you, I decided to go reach out, to find the public part of the "public interest." To see firsthand how technology can and does affect Americas homes, businesses, families, and lives. To put human faces on the policies that the FCC makes.

That has not only enriched the way we make decisions at the FCC. It has also enriched my life.

I have had some incredible experiences during the year and a half that I have held this job. And the most meaningful experiences are those when I have learned first hand the power of technology to uplift the lives of people in this country.

Last year, I went with Senator Ted Stevens to the bush country of his home state of Alaska.

There, we went to towns where there were more moose than people. These towns are so remote that we had to take a small plane to reach them. I remember talking to the pilot of one of those planes, a guy exactly my age. He told me about growing up in the Alaska bush country. He had no telephone. He saw TV once a year when his family went into Anchorage to go shopping.

He told me how important it was to him for his children to be connected to the rest of the country by technology so they could continue living on the land his family has had for generations and still enjoy the opportunities that kids have in any city in America.

That's why we are working with Senator Stevens and others to make sure that those kids will have phone services and satellite service. So they can have the Internet and e-commerce and the whole array of video services beamed to them by satellite like every other kid in America.

We all marvel at the wonders of these technologies. But in our excitement, we must never forget the consequences for those who don't have access to them. And as technology increasingly defines who we are and what we can become in this society, those denied it fall further behind.

It's the digital divide. And never was that divide more real to me than last month.

Last month, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona at a computer industry conference, with all of the luminaries of the computer industry; people who have earned more in an IPO than the FCC spends in a year - or two.

I was on this panel on broadband and the future of high-speed Internet access. We were debating how we can speed the deployment of broadband technology to residential consumers. Now, this is a very important debate these days. And I was on a panel with some CEO's and senior executives, and they are literally pounding the table debating this issue.

It came my turn and I said, you know, this is a really important debate that we are having here. But we sit here pounding the table discussing how to get another megabit per second into suburban homes in America, when there are people less than an hour from here who are still waiting for a telephone, still waiting for a dial tone -- people living on Indian reservations.

About 94% of Americans have telephones in their homes. That percentage is the envy of much of the rest of the world. But for Native Americans in this country, only about 50% of homes have phones. And on some of Navajo reservations in Indian country, less than 20% of people have a telephone.

I know this, because I have visited the homes of these folks. I have sat in their living rooms as they told me what it means in America today when you don't have a telephone. What it's like when you can't call your child's teacher. Or make a doctor's appointment. Or call an ambulance.

And the irony was that while we sat and debated the future of broadband deployment, less than an hour away, thousands of people on the Gila River Indian Reservation just outside of Scottsdale are still waiting for a telephone.

So I told these computer folks my story, and I said, if you want to change the future of America, come with me. Come with me to the Gila River Indian Reservation and bring your talent and your energy and your money. Let's make a difference in the lives of those people.

Now, I didn't plan to say this. But, after my speech, people came up to me and said, "Let's go." So we went to the Gila River Indian Reservation. I drove up there like the Pied Piper. I had AT&T and Sun Microsystems, and Lucent, and Nortel and Northpoint all with me. And we met with tribal leaders and their families. And together we're going to make a difference for those folks.

We're going to give a voice to the voiceless.

We went to an Indian reservation in New Mexico, the Picuris Pueblo. Afterwards, I talked to Sol Trujillo of US West, and told him what I saw. A month later, US West was there signing up new subscribers. I think I see Sol Trujillo out there. I want to thank him, and all the companies that have risen to this challenge. And I hope that some of US West's competitors will rise to this challenge as well.

You don't have to go to Alaska's bush country or to a remote Indian reservation to witness the power of telecommunications technology to uplift the lives of people in this country.

I've met young men and women with disabilities whose lives have been transformed by technology. Incredible people with incredible stories about technology.

People like Scott, a high school student in Georgia, who is blind, and uses the web to access on-line Spanish-English dictionaries. This has made studying Spanish not only more fun for him, but it frees up his time to do everything that a teenager wants to do.

Over 54 million Americans have some kind of disability. And it is estimated that as many as 15 million people with disabilities are of working age, want to work, but don't have the access to the communications tools that are essential to almost any job.

That's why this year we at the FCC are working with people with disabilities and all segments of the communications industry to write new guidelines to ensure that people with disabilities get access to technology. So the millions of people like Scott can have better lives.

Giving a voice to the voiceless.

Last year, I went to an elementary school in Newark, New Jersey - a city that has never fully recovered from the riots that engulfed it over thirty years ago. Although there are signs of rejuvenation, Newark - which sits just across the river from the wealth of Wall Street -- is predominantly poor, black, and Hispanic.

I went to this school to see the opening of a new computer lab for the students there. And I had the opportunity -- the privilege, really -- of teaching a nine-year-old student named John to use a computer for the very first time in his life.

I showed him how to boot up the computer and access the web.

First, we went to the FCC's website, and my picture came up. I said, "What do you think?"

"This is boring," he said.

So we surfed around for something that would be more interesting. We found some websites about cars, and then one about the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

And after he was really getting the hang of it. I asked him what he thought about computers and the Internet. And looked at me and this kid's whole face just lit up.

He said, "Its so cool, its so fast. Its much better than books."

Well, I don't want kids abandoning books. But I walked away thinking: that in that split second, John had summed up the power of this technology to change the world. It is fundamentally changing the way we learn, the way we process information, the way we stay connected to one another. And as I left that school that day, I thought to myself, that I had witnessed something profound -- what John learned that day had the potential to change the course of his life.

Thank goodness that people at Five Points Media Center understand this. Thank goodness President Clinton and Vice President Gore understand this. They have made it a priority to connect every school and every library to the Internet. Schools in Five Points and schools in Cherry Creek. Schools in Newark, and libraries in Manhattan. And because of their leadership, and the leadership of U.S. Senators like Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe and Bob Kerry and Congressman Ed Markey, we have an e-rate program that gives the FCC the tools to help get this job done.

Last year, we invested $1.7 billion to bring the Internet to over 80,000 schools and libraries across the country.

And the e-rate is working. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, the e-rate has had a significant impact on bridging the digital divide. This year, it is estimated that African-American access to the Internet will rise 42 percent, and Hispanic access will rise 20 percent. The gap is closing. We can close this digital divide. I am confident that we can.

The lives of kids at 80,000 schools and libraries are better because of what we - as a nation - are doing. Now, many more schools need to get wired. And I think that we owe it to them and these children to do so. That's why I'm looking forward to this second year of the e-rate program. Another year of closing that digital divide.

But I don't have to sell this crowd on the importance of technology to the lives of our children. That's why you're here tonight.

I know that the past week has been a tough one for this community. I was here that day. The whole nation, indeed, much of the world has been thinking about the children of your community.

I thought a lot about what I could say tonight about what happened at Columbine High. And I must say, I feel very powerless. I feel powerless to try to explain what is, at some level, absolutely inexplicable.

And because of that, it's hard for us to find the answers. And when the answers don't come easy, its easy to lose hope.

Last week I listened to Katie Couric's interview of Isaiah Shoels's father. That interview brought tears to my eyes. But it gave me hope.

He said that we all need to do is inject ourselves into the lives of our children. His advice is so simple, yet so true.

Yesterday I met with 150 teenagers from rural parts of America who came 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.

Of course Isaiah's father is right. Of course one solution lies in the way we communicate with our children in our living rooms, around our dinner tables, and in our churches. Each of us, individually. One kid at a time.

You know, sometimes the voiceless are in our own homes.

But that can't be the only solution.

Certainly there must be more that we can do as a national community.

Our technology -- the Internet, television, cable -- reflect the very best our society has to offer and, sometimes, too often, it reflects the very worst.

Our challenge, as a nation, is to come together and give parents the tools to put this technology to its highest use for the benefit of our children. And to shield them from the harm it can do.

That's why we are working hard at the FCC to bring the V-chip into every home in America. It's a little silicon chip that we are requiring to be installed in 50% of new television sets by July of this year and in all new sets by January of next year. It allows parents to use the new TV ratings system to screen out shows with sex and violence from their homes.

We need to use technology to give parents the tools they need to protect their kids.

And that's why we need filtering software for families to use on their PC's. Parents need to know how it works, where to get, and how to use it.

Just as you wouldn't send a child off alone to a big city, you wouldn't - and shouldn't - let them explore the vast landscape of the Internet alone and unprotected.

My visit to Five Points today certainly gave me hope. Because I saw there a community coming together -- redoubling its efforts to save our kids.

At Five Points, you have built one of the footbridges across the digital divide reaching out to students and their families - bringing the very best of technology to an entire community.

I want to tell you one last story about my travels as chairman of the FCC. This time, something that happened to me very close to home.

I was taking a cab one day in Washington, and the cab driver said, "Aren't you the chairman of the FCC?"

I said, "Yeah, that's me."

We chatted for a bit about my job and his job. Then he says to me, you know, I carry a lot of people around in this cab, lawyers and lobbyists. And a few times I've heard them talking about you.

Oh, really, what do they say.

Well, they can't figure you out. They say that you don't play the game. And they can't understand you.

But then, he says, but you know, you're alright with me because I know that you are out there fighting for the little guy.

That cab driver gave me about the best compliment I'll ever get in this job.

Giving a voice to the voiceless.

In closing, I want to say something to the students and interns from Five Points who are here tonight, some of whom had the pleasure of grilling me earlier today in a student press conference. By the way, if you ever get invited to a "student' press conference at Five Points Media Center, don't expect any softball questions. Especially from Max.

But I want you students to remember this night. I know I will. And I want you to look around this room. Look at all of the people in this room tonight. Every one of them is here for you.

They are here because they want you to have opportunity, opportunity to be anything you want to be. I may be up here getting an award, but the real honor is being here for you. To be here as part of a community of people working together to make a brighter future for you.

I thank all of you for this honor. And I want you all to know, that so long as I am chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, I will be a part of what you are doing at the Five Points Media Center.

Thank you so very much.