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Remarks of
William E. Kennard, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
to the
National Council of La Raza
Houston, TX
July 28, 1999
(as prepared for delivery

"A Rising Tide: La Raza in the New Millennium"

Thank you, Jose, for that kind introduction.

My fellow FCC Commissioner, Gloria Tristani, a Latina who has worked tirelessly to fight for consumers, told me that La Raza gives a warm welcome. But I didn't expect those very generous words. Thank you, and please know that Gloria sends her regards.

Congratulations to tonight's award winners, and thank you Raul Yzaguirre for inviting me here tonight.

For the past 25 years, Raul has been one of the most effective advocates not just for Latinos, but for all of us. I love working with Raul because Raul is a fighter. He is the person you want next to you in a tough fight. And he always fights hard, and always fights for what is right. Raul, I hope that you will give us another 25 years of service.

I grew up in Los Angeles. My mother was a school teacher. She taught bilingual education at a little school in the barrio called Vine Street Elementary School.

My mother had kind of a unique upbringing. She learned to speak Spanish at the same time that she learned English.

She is not Latina, but she grew up in the San Joaquin Valley of California and spent her earliest days playing with the children of migrant workers who lived near her house. So, in many ways, she was training to be a bilingual teacher from the day she started talking.

And over the years, while she taught English to new immigrants, she taught Spanish -- un poquito -- to me.

And she taught me this Spanish saying, A buen entendedor, pocas palabras. So, friends, I will be brief tonight.

I am very honored to be here tonight. I am honored because I have worked hard to bring to my work as Chairman of the FCC the same commitment that La Raza has championed for 30 years: to make sure that all Americans -- the sons of slaves, the daughters of immigrants, and the children of refugees -- all have an equal opportunity to share in the promise of American life.

And now as we enter the Information Age as a nation with a high-tech economy that is the envy of the world, this promise is greater than ever. We have the opportunity to use the tools of technology -- like satellites and the Internet -- to uplift our people, to bring us together as a nation, to narrow the divides of race and income and class that have divided us for too long. But only if we make the right choices today. Otherwise, this wonderful technology will be the tool only of the fortunate, the affluent, the privileged.

That is the choice that we face today as we go forth into the Information Age. I've seen the potential of this technology in neighborhoods across the nation. I've seen it at Vine Street Elementary where my mother taught so many years ago.

Four months ago, I went back to Vine Street Elementary. There, I saw a school built at the beginning of this century being transformed by the technologies of the next.

This school -- despite being in a poor neighborhood -- was just as neat and tidy as when my mother taught there many years ago. It's mission was the same too: to give the children of the barrio the knowledge and the skills that they would need to seize the opportunities of the future.

But to remain true to this unchanging mission, the school had to change. So that day in March, I found myself with my sleeves rolled up, working with Congressman Xavier Beccera and School Superintendent Ruben Zacarias to literally wire the school to the Internet.

And Vine Street Elementary was able to do all of this because of the e-rate, a national program to wire schools and libraries to the Internet, a program administered by the FCC.

Because of the foresight of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, we have this program that in its first year helped over 80,000 schools and libraries -- and more than half of the unconnected classrooms -- connect to the Internet.

But despite this success, there are those in Washington who want to play politics with our children's future.

Perhaps they've never seen -- as I have -- a child's eyes light up as they go on-line for the first time and discover the unlimited fount of information and the countless connections to a world thousands of miles from their neighborhood. Or perhaps they are just too focused on today's partisan wrangling to consider preparing our children and our workforce for the future.

Whatever the reason, they fought to kill the e-rate. But with the hard work of the President and the Vice President, and allies on Capitol Hill like Lucille Roybal-Allard and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and with the help of committed advocates like La Raza, we defended the e-rate. And the FCC fully funded the program this year.

And I want to thank Raul and La Raza for fighting by my side to save the e-rate.

And what does this victory mean? It means an additional 600,000 classrooms will be wired to the Internet -- touching 40 million schoolchildren, many of them in our poorest and most rural schools.

It means that we can invest over $2 billion this year to wire thousands more classrooms to the Internet. In fact, it means that just this week, we were able to send about $12 million to schools and libraries right here in Texas.

It means that we will be able to continue our fight to close the digital divide that is emerging in our country.

In a report released this month by the Commerce Department, they found that black and Hispanic house-holds are only 40 percent as likely as white house-holds to be online. That means that of the blacks and Hispanics who are on-line, they are more likely to rely on access in public facilities, like schools and libraries.

By fully funding the e-rate, we are building footbridges across this divide for millions of young Americans in thousands of towns and cities throughout the nation.

We are helping the third-graders I met at Vine Street Elementary in LA; the high-schoolers I talked to in South San Antonio; and the children I visited with in inner city Newark get a leg up in a race that too many people for too long have told them that they'll never finish, much less win.

We are making it possible for children in San Antonio and Los Angeles, in New York and Miami to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Today, a higher percentage of Latinos have their own businesses than in any other group in America.

But in the future, hard work and determination won't be enough. You'll also need to know how to use a computer, how to sell on-line, and how technology will shape our lives in the Information Age. The e-rate is a first step in investing for that future.

Now, I'm pleased to see that America is finally waking up to the power of the Hispanic community. How could they not help but notice? This community is reshaping this country. Newsweek summed it up a few weeks ago in its cover story on how Generation N is exploding onto the scene, from Ricky Martin to Oscar De La Hoya to Selina to tonight's fabulous award recipients.

America is finally waking up to the fact that Latinos are soon to become America's largest minority group. America is finally waking up to the fact that Latinos are reinvigorating our culture and our economy, infusing it with energy, entrepreneurship, and soul.

America is getting a glimpse of the next century and realizing that Latinos are key to America's future.

If Latinos are key to the future of American society and communications is key to the future of the American economy, than to be strong as a nation, we need to make sure that we invest in both.

That means not only using the e-rate to bring the Internet into every school and library in the nation.

That also means making sure that Latino radio stations can provide the music, news, and local information that communities around the country rely on. It means that discriminatory advertising practices are stopped so that when a station such as KSCA in Los Angeles which is number one in the ratings is not stuck at number twenty in ad revenues.

Building a strong future also means using creative ways, like the tax certificate program, to create incentives for the sale of all types of communications businesses -- radio, TV, cable, wireless -- to small businesses, and especially small businesses run by Latinos, women, and other minorities.

Before this program was killed, it opened the door for people like Tom Castro right here in Houston to enter and to thrive in the radio business. We need more Tom Castro's.

And perhaps when those who own and run America's networks look more like America, so will their shows. America needs TV shows that reflect the diversity that we see in our own neighborhoods, not programs that distort the reality of America.

I remember what it meant to me growing up when Bill Cosby was the first African-American in a starring role on TV. Remember "I Spy"? I remember how important it was in my family to finally see an African-American in a starring role on network television. Thirty years later, we are still waiting for network television to fully reflect what America really looks like.

And let us never forget that these network programs are exported around the world. For many people in many countries, their only image of America is the image they see on these shows. My friends, the image they see is not the America I live in, and this has got to change.

We have to work now to make sure that these great communications networks that are sending images and business and data all over the world are not only making our economy stronger, but promoting the values that we cherish.

Cesar Chavez once said that, "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. . . . Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own."

Martin Luther King, Jr. captured this same thought when he talked about the "inescapable network of mutuality" that connects people of all colors: black and white, brown and white, black and brown.

Many of us have come far and achieved much. It's wonderful to look around this room tonight and see so many successful people -- Latinos who have reached the top of their fields, fields from all aspects of American life.

We are here tonight to celebrate this success, but also to rededicate ourselves to the aspirations and needs of others who await success. We do this for their sakes and our own. For the progress of a people -- La Raza -- is greater when all rise together.

I know that this organization will never forget this. I know that I won't. And I know that if we continue to work together we can build an America for the next millennium that leaves no one behind.

Thank you, gracias, and buenas noches.