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MMTC Hosts its Inaugural Broadband and Social Justice Summit

Summit moderator Tyrone Brown solicits more details from Jane Cabarrus, President of the Northhampton County Branch of the NAACP in Weirwood, Virginia, an area currently without a broadband infrastructure in place.

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Federal administrators, corporate leaders, civil rights veterans, and influential policy bloggers brought their diverse viewpoints to the roundtable discussions at the
Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) Broadband and Social Justice Summit at Howard University in Washington, D.C. on January 22.

Former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Tyrone Brown guided the dialogue as the participants brainstormed the barriers to broadband participation for minority communities and the civil rights implications of digital disengagement.

“Could you envision e-mailing or Skypeing yourself?” The question of perceived usefulness was posed by FCC Broadband Initiative Director Blair Levin as he discussed the impact of broadband on jobs, healthcare, and politics. “Unless the communities you care about are online, broadband loses its relevancy,” Levin said to accentuate a social infrastructure factor impeding adoption — that the Internet is a “team sport” with a strong networking component.

In examining broadband imperatives, the concept of shifting the viewpoint to that of the non-adopter came under examination.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called it “The Challenge of the Last Half Mile — the distance between each individual who has yet to integrate broadband into their lives and the physical infrastructure lying right outside of their doors.”

Beyond the adoption issue, Commissioner Clyburn posed two questions for consideration:

  1. How do we ensure that all communities take advantage of this emerging economic force?
  2. How can we ensure that the barriers remain low in order to prevent another communications model that has people of color once again on the outside looking in?

Summit participants had the opportunity to express opinions, concerns, and policy suggestions in three vigorous roundtable discussions on topics including Broadband Literacy, Broadcasting and Journalism in the Broadband World, and Closing the Digital Divide.

Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), informed the audience that NTIA has been directed by Congress to focus on adoption issues in order to:

  • Get more people to use broadband.
  • Find ways to make broadband more available and more affordable.
  • Create more computer training programs.

Secretary Strickling provided insight on the selection priorities during the next round of Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funding, including:

  • Focusing on projects in communities where the before and after effects can be clearly measured.
  • Public computer center projects, particularly where people can receive computer training.
  • Comprehensive infrastructure projects including creating high-speed facilities and connecting community anchors.
  • Promoting projects that involve socially disadvantaged businesses.

Strickling also invited all to attend the series of workshops around the country jointly organized by the NTIA and the Department of Agriculture to provide application processing assistance to this target audience.

MMTC, a Connected Nation partner, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving equal opportunity and civil rights in the mass media and telecommunications industries. MMTC is generally recognized as the nation's leading advocate for minority advancement in communications.

Raquel Noriega, Director of Policy Development at Connected Nation, addressed the group about one of Connected Nation’s community initiatives called Every Citizen Online (SM).

Every Citizen Online proposes a public-private partnership that brings together broadband service providers, personal computer equipment manufacturers, and companies such as Intel to deliver a program that targets low-income segments of the population with an affordable personal computer, discounted monthly broadband service and the appropriate level of follow on education and support.

Intel, Dell, Lenovo, Fujitsu, Velocity Micro, and ZT Systems are among the private sector partners joining in the initiative.

Every Citizen Online aims to help vulnerable populations overcome top barriers to adoption, including broadband awareness and training, computer ownership, and subscription affordability.

“The focus of the summit was very much consistent with our goals and mission and we applaud MMTC for creating this important public forum to encourage more people to use broadband-enabled applications,” Noriega said.

Related information:
Blog Post:
Broadband and Social Justice Summit Underway in Washington, D.C.