Preventing the “Blackout”
ABOVE PHOTO: Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia yesterday (April 22nd) for the local launch of EveryoneOn, a campaign designed to bring Americans online through free digital skills trainings, low-cost Internet and affordable computers. Fourty-one percent of Philadelphians do not have high-speed Internet access at home.”
As part of Philly Tech Week, the media, the internet and the access of people of color to both took center stage during events at the Free Library of Philadelphia.
By Denise Clay
While Blacks have a ton of purchasing power in America, that purchasing power hasn’t been able to translate into one very important thing: media ownership.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, African Americans own less than one percent of the television stations in America and less than 3 percent of the radio stations. While the numbers are slightly better in terms of print publications, they’re still quite small, said Mignon Clyburn, an FCC commissioner.
And unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better anytime soon, Clyburn said.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “And I can’t even say to you that there’s anything coming down the pike that will make things better. There’s not a positive outlook.”
How to change the outlook for minority owned media was the subject of a panel discussion held as part of Philly Tech Week on Monday at the Free Library of Philadelphia. “Blackout: Reinventing Black Media in the Digital Age” was the latest in 900 AM WURD’s “WURD Speaks” series and focused on ways to get broadcasters of color onto the World Wide Web as content producers and, most importantly, owners.
Moderating the panel was WURD President and General Manager Sara Lomax-Reese, and joining her on the panel in addition to Clyburn was Robert Bogle, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune, William Crowder, managing director of DreamIt Ventures, Brigitte Daniel, executive vice president of Wilco Electronic Systems, Inc., and Navarrow Wright, Chief Technology Officer of Interactive One, Radio One’s digital media arm.
While there are many barriers keeping people of color from making inroads in media ownership, the largest remains a lack of the color green, Clyburn said.
“The biggest barrier is access to capital,” she said.
But getting that capital for media organizations of color can be as simple as demanding more from advertisers, Bogle said.
“It’s up to us as a community to ask why ads aren’t being bought in our publications,” he said.
But while it looks bleak on the ownership side for minorities, Clyburn assured the audience that media diversity is on the FCC’s radar and it’s a problem they’re committed to solving this problem.
In fact, while Clyburn was in Philadelphia, she helped unveil a program designed to solve another problem that people of color sometimes encounter when it comes to the Internet: access..
Sheila Anthony of Southwest Philadelphia rarely goes anywhere without her “baby”.
The “baby” is a netbook computer that Anthony received as part of the computer literacy training she received from the Freedom Rings Partnership. Freedom Rings is a group of organizations including the Knight Foundation, the Urban Affairs Coalition, Drexel University, Comcast and other community partners that provides training, computers, and low-cost internet access to people in Philadelphia Housing Authority buildings.
Prior to receiving her “baby” and being taught how to use it, a lot of years had elapsed between Anthony and seeing a computer, but now she couldn’t see her life without it, she said.
“The first time that I had ever seen a computer was in 1964 at the World’s Fair in New York,” she said. “But now, my “baby” goes everywhere with me. It teaches me things that I didn’t know before and it’s given me confidence, so now I teach [PHA] residents how to use computers the same way that I was taught.”
Through EveryoneOn, a new initiative put together by some of the same organizations working with Freedom Rings and including Wilco, Inc., people will be able to get the Internet access they need from the comfort of their own home. While things are starting to improve in terms of connecting everyone with Internet service at home, there’s still too many people on the digital outside looking in, Clyburn said.
“Without broadband, a growing number of Americans won’t be able to participate in a variety of things,” Clyburn said. “There are employers who post all of their positions online.”
About 41 percent of all Philadelphians have no in-home Internet. Nationwide, 50 percent Americans living in rural areas, 59 percent of Blacks and 49 percent of Latinos also lack access to the web from somewhere other than a public library or a school.
Most of this is due to the cost to connect and to have a computer to use, said Zach Leverenz, CEO of Connect2Compete, the Washington, DC based organization that’s at the center of EveryoneOn. As someone who has been on the wrong side of the digital divide due to living in a rural area, it’s important to find ways to partner with people to close said gaps.
“We need more leadership,” he said. “We need to build coalitions and figure out how to facilitate connections.”
One way that families in need of low cost internet can get the connections they desire is to go to either call 1-855-EVRY1ON or access the organization’s website, which is www.everyoneon.org. There, you can put in your zip code and get access to what values are available to you in terms of internet service and computers.
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