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Civil Rights In The Digital Age

Dr. Martin Luther King fought to make a segregated and neglected section of our nation a full part of society, with all the rights and privileges. But as Speed Matters partner, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), pointed out on the recent King holiday, those rights and privileges have changed since Dr. King's time. We are now living in "the digital age, where first class citizenship means being online and knowing what to do when you get there."

As FCC Chairman Genachowski remarked, "It used to be that being disconnected was an inconvenience.  Not any more.  Whether we're talking about jobs, education, or health care, in this day and age, getting online is a necessity, not a convenience.... Closing the digital divide is about achieving the basic American promise of opportunity for all."

One barrier to opportunity for all is "spectrum exhaustion" which looms over "large, population-dense and spectrum-poor, majority (or nearly majority)-minority cities.  New York.  Chicago.  Los Angeles." That is, the coming lack of wireless spectrum, especially in those urban areas where low-income minority populations depend on mobile technology for their link to the online world.

"African Americans and Hispanic Americans - with wealth gaps of 20 times and 18 times respectively that of White Americans, higher rates of unemployment, and decreasing household incomes - are the Americans who will be especially hard hit by price increases caused by the spectrum crunch."

In the face of impending spectrum depletion, many groups - including MMTC, CWA and others - have endorsed spectrum auctions. Congress needs to pass legislation that would give the FCC the authority it needs for incentive spectrum auctions. The bi-partisan S.911 provides a framework to move forward.

Failure to serve our still-struggling urban communities will mean further increasing the wealth gap, and a loss of human potential. We need to address today's needs with today's responses. As Dr. King warned that:

"one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands."

Links:

What Congress Should Do Now To Advance Civil Rights In The Digital Age (MMTC, Jan. 15, 2012)

Chairman Julius Genachowski remarks on broadband adoption (Nov. 9, 2011)

Category: Education and Training, E-Government & Civic Participation, Universality, Digital Divide, FCC, Federal Legislation