Remarks of
FCC Commissioner Susan Ness
Federal Communications Commission
Before the 45th Annual Conference of
American Women in Radio and Television

Naples, Florida

June 28, 1996

Women . . . Ascend!

It is a pleasure to be with you today.

Naples is a lovely place to hold a conference. I wish I could stay and enjoy the view and the company, but I have to return immediately to Washington. At long last we are about to circulate a draft of the children's television report and order.

But short visits have their advantages. For one thing, I didn't have to waste time unpacking. And with the long hours I've been working, my husband and children probably haven't even realized I've left town!

I can't leave Washington much these days because, as you know, the FCC is working non- stop to implement the eighty rulemaking proceedings required under the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Congress directed the Commission to complete in record time a host of complex items that will have a profound effect on every sector of the communications industry. For example, by August 8th -- just six months after enactment -- we must finalize rules that will provide a national blueprint for competition in local telephone service -- a $100 billion market. The pleadings submitted in this proceeding alone total 17,000 pages!

On July 11th, we hope to vote on a notice proposing an allotment schedule for digital television channels. And we just issued rules inaugurating open video systems -- an open platform to enable telephone companies to provide multichannel video in competition with cable television. All this, while reviewing some of the largest communications mergers in history.

Notwithstanding this frenetic pace, it is a terribly exciting time to work at the FCC and in the telecommunications field.

AWRT is doing a wonderful job of advancing the success of women in our thriving industry. I would like to thank you for your participation in the FCC's Spectrum En Banc earlier this year and for your thoughtful comments on our EEO Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

I consider it a vital duty -- no, an honor -- for women to extend professional opportunities to other women. This is something I have tried to practice throughout my career. If my presence here underscores that point, I consider this short visit well worthwhile.

I think it is particularly appropriate that, in this historic year, you have chosen the theme "Ascend" for your convention. So in keeping with your theme, I would like to discuss opportunities for the ascension of women in telecommunications. Working together, as individuals we can ascend in our chosen careers. And working together as a community, we can ascend by delivering communications products and services that reflect our highest values.

Ascending In Our Careers

The FCC, I'm pleased to report, is one telecommunications agency where women are in ascendancy. Half of the FCC's commissioners are female. And four of our six bureau chiefs are women. This has undoubtedly prompted law firms to add female lobbyists to their staffs!

It is inspiring to look to some of the women trailblazers in our industry. Their achievements will help ensure all avenues are open to the next generation of women who enter this field. And the values that they bring to their work will provide benefits for all of society.

One example is Geraldine Laybourne, the new president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks. Laybourne is a former schoolteacher, which should come as no surprise considering her immense contributions to the world of children's educational television. She joined Nickelodeon as a program manager when it was a fledgling cable channel, and she worked her way up to network president.

Laybourne balked at the conventional wisdom that kids only watch programs with toy-related characters and shows need only be geared toward boys. Instead, Laybourne used the media to cultivate -- not insult -- kids' intelligence; to sell kids on news, not just on toys; and to reach out to girls, not just to boys. And in the process, she led Nickelodeon to become the top-rated basic cable channel.

Or Lucie Salhany, the president of United Paramount Network. As the first female network president, Lucie broke down barriers for women. Before launching UPN and Fox Broadcasting, Lucie launched her own television career as a secretary at WKBF-TV in Cleveland. Lucie cares very much about the role of broadcasters as public trustees of the airwaves.

Your own Lucille Luongo also began her broadcasting career as a secretary. Through a lot of hard work she steadily climbed the ranks of Katz Media. Though she has been the head of corporate communications for the past six years, she has consistently made time for activities to improve and expand the world of broadcasting. Whether in her capacity as president of AWRT, or vice president of the philanthropic Broadcasters Foundation, or advisory board member of the Caption Center at WGBH, Lucille has added value and meaning to our industry.

Women like Gerry, Lucie and Lucille offer encouragement to other women in communications; doors are opening, and it is possible to ascend the corporate ladder of success. They also demonstrate by their deeds that it is possible to give back to society at the same time.

Ascending Through Ownership

While many women have chosen to ascend as executives of established companies, an increasing number of women believe that owning their own business might be the most direct path -- or the only path -- to the top. As Judy Estrin, the president of Precept Software said, "If you build your own house, you don't have to worry about it having a glass ceiling." Estrin should know; she was recently named Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by the Alliance for Women Entrepreneurs.

The FCC has taken several steps to increase opportunities for women to ascend as owners.

a. Spectrum Auction Rules

First, we are working to make sure that women are among the winners as we chart out the spectrum for a host of new uses.

We have fought to increase the participation of women in the spectrum auctions. AWRT helped us develop the record in support of our incentives to do this.

The Commission wrote its auction rules to open the doors of opportunity. We provide a chance to compete in a race based on talent. There's no guarantee of success, but there's a place at the starting line for some who never before made it into the gates.

We recently completed our C-Block auctions for personal communications services. At least 95 of the 493 licenses awarded in that auction went to female-owned companies. (I say "at least" because gender identification was optional.)

At first glance, the fact that 19% of the licenses went to companies owned by women may not seem so great. After all, women comprise more than half of the American workforce. And women now own one-third of the small businesses in the country.

But this 19% ownership figure was achieved despite the revised rules that resulted from the Adarand decision, which tightened the level of judicial scrutiny applied to federal affirmative action programs.

I don't need to tell you that women are woefully underrepresented in communications ownership ranks. And that exact figures are hard to find. According to the latest numbers available, only 1.9% of television stations were owned and controlled by women, and only 3.8% of radio stations had female majority shareholders.

So, in that context, I consider the 95 PCS licenses awarded to female-owned businesses to be progress.

b. Telecommunications Development Fund

The auctions hold yet another promise for women -- a second step the FCC is taking to enable women to ascend to ownership.

The Telecom Act has authorized the FCC to transfer the interest earned from auction upfront payments into a new non-profit organization, the Telecommunications Development Fund.

This fund will become a valuable resource for loans and investments in small communications businesses as they seek to start up or expand. The Fund's charter also includes providing financial advice to small businesses.

So far the fund totals almost $6 million, and of course that figure will rise as more auctions are held.

The members of the fund's board will be named soon. I am confident that the interests of women will be represented as this endeavor moves forward. I encourage you to keep your eyes on the Fund and to think creatively about how it may aid you as a small business entrepreneur.

c. Market Entry Barriers NOI

A third step the FCC has recently taken to further ownership opportunities for women is our proceeding on market entry barriers. Cathy Sandoval, the Director of the FCC's Office of Communications Business Opportunities, will talk more about the market entry barriers Notice of Inquiry later today.

This proceeding, which was mandated by the Telecom Act, asks about the obstacles encountered by small communications businesses in their dealings with the FCC, FCC licensees, and other government agencies. It asks about the impediments to entering the marketplace and accessing capital. It seeks information on barriers unique to women and minorities who are pursuing employment and ownership opportunities in this field.

I am pleased to announce that later this summer the FCC will hold a forum in Washington, D.C. on the market entry barriers inquiry. We will invite testimony from you and other members of the public. Your participation is crucial.

Your individual stories are needed to develop a full record. This record will help the FCC to determine whether or not additional incentives should be made available to women seeking ownership opportunities, and whether such programs pass constitutional muster.

d. Creating New Opportunities for Entrepreneurs

Finally, the FCC can facilitate the creation of new services based on the technological revolution. Our job at the FCC is to lay the groundwork for new communications businesses to emerge and prosper in a competitive world.

On this day 33 years ago, John F. Kennedy said, "We need men who can dream of things that never were." I'm sure he meant to include all of us in that quote, which recognizes the importance of creativity and vision to the future of America.

And what more innovative industry than telecommunications?

Last month, we proposed to increase bandwidth for low power unlicensed services to connect computers.

Yesterday, the FCC issued an order to allow commercial mobile radio licensees, including PCS holders, flexibility to offer fixed services as well as mobile services -- without coming to the FCC for approval.

All of these rulemakings create opportunities for entrepreneurs to design new businesses.

And next month we will be finalizing an order launching local multipoint distribution service (LMDS).

Earlier I mentioned Judy Estin, the recipient of a Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award. Estrin's company, Precept, makes software for delivering multimedia content across local and wide area networks.

Estrin shared the award with Mary Ann Byrnes, the chief executive of Corsair Communications. Corsair sells technology for combating cellular phone fraud.

The FCC didn't create these businesses; these women did it on their own.

Working as a Community to Ascend

We all know competition benefits consumers with lower prices and greater selection. Competition also pays public interest dividends in some new and exciting ways.

For example, recently I read about phone cards with advertising on them. Apparently the hot thing this summer is phone cards that feature images of and works from museums. So competition among phone companies -- in this case MCI, NYNEX, Deutsche Telekom -- has moved into new realms, and helped museums to boot.

Museums aren't the only non-profits to benefit. One long distance company donates to a variety of causes a portion of the money you spend on calls.

It's wonderful that these businesses are competing while, at the same time, benefitting the community. With some creative thinking, these two goals needs not be mutually exclusive.

Ascending with Children's Educational Television

Which brings me to my final topic -- the FCC's Children's Television Proceeding, and how we as a national community can ascend by doing right by kids.

Unless you have been filming penguins in the Antarctic for the past two years, you must be aware of the saga of the FCC's efforts to put meat on the bones of the Children's Television Act. I believe that we are close to achieving agreement among the four Commissioners. I hope that a draft of the Report and Order will be circulated later today.

Basically, it will establish a three hour per week safe harbor. If a licensee airs at least three hours of core children's educational and informational programming per week, it has fulfilled its obligations under the CTA.

Core programming is defined as regularly scheduled programming of thirty minutes or more in length that has education as a significant purpose, that is directed at a specific age group, and that is aired between the hours of 7:00 AM and 10:00 PM. Even if you aired slightly less than three hours of core programming, you still can have the Mass Media Bureau pass on your license renewal, providing that you proffer a basket of programming activities, core and non-core, that weighs about the same as three hours of core. Your other programming efforts must be exceptional -- in excess of the average run in your community. Here, it is relevant that you chose to spend a considerable amount of time and money to produce a terrific core program or specials, and aired short-form programming or interstitials well in excess of your colleagues in the market. You need not sacrifice quality for quantity. You have the flexibility to choose, as long as the level of commitment is roughly equivalent to three hours of core programming.

If you do not qualify for staff approval, then your application goes to the Commission for resolution.

I believe that this approach is faithful both to the language of the Act and to the First Amendment, and that it works for broadcasters, works for parents and children, and works for the Commission.

Once the Commission issues its rules, the work starts in earnest. I believe that good programming must be programming that kids will want to watch. It should be both enlightening and entertaining. The two go together.

I firmly believe -- as Vice President Gore recently predicted -- that this ruling will usher in a new golden era of quality children's programming. Because now that the demand for such programming has been created, the creative talent is there to produce it.

And our rules will help to promote educational programs so more kids will watch. And more advertising dollars will flow.

We must remember, however, that eighty percent of new season prime time programs fail. We should not impose a double standard on children's educational programming and wring our hands if some of these shows do not succeed.

Returning to my message about working together as a community to ascend with our highest values, laboring in the vineyards of kidvid has been a labor of love -- but a labor nonetheless. I believe that the leadership of the broadcast industry did a disservice to its membership by opposing a three-hour processing guideline and not helping to craft a workable solution.

I am so proud of several female broadcasting executives who took a lot of heat trying to work behind the scenes with their colleagues to end the impasse. That's what I mean about bringing higher values to our jobs.

Now is a great opportunity to turn the Children's Television Act into a win for broadcasters and your communities. Work together to find programming concepts that kids like. Work together with the advertising community to underwrite these programs. Work together with your community leaders to promote these programs. You can do it -- I know you will show that leadership.


All of us in the communications industry touch the lives of others. There's an enormous potential for everyone in this room to make some real and lasting changes for the better.

I don't think we need to separate our roles as businesswomen from our roles as concerned parents, grandparents, aunts, sisters, or members of the community. I don't think our values need to change as we leave the living room and enter the board room.

That's how we ascend personally and as a community.

Thank you.