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MMTC Outlines “Racial Justice” Initiatives for FCC

“No federal body has a greater need to create and preserve racial justice than the Federal Communications Commission”

The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council has called on the Federal Communications Commission to adopt seven new initiatives it says can better advance diversity and provide racial justice within the media industry.

At no time since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s has it been more important that the FCC affirm that it cares about issues of racial justice, said the MMTC in a letter submitted to the commission on Aug. 4.

“The FCC’s long and malodorous history of minority exclusion should both haunt and motivate all of us,” the organization said, adding that numerous proposals to advance racial justice in media and telecommunications have stalled. It is not uncommon for the agency to take 20 years or more to act on a proposal that would advance opportunities for multicultural communities and consumers, the organization said.

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“Today, the FCC carries the enormous responsibility of overseeing one-sixth of our national economy, including some of America’s fastest growing industries and greatest exports, and are the trustees of the First Amendment,” the organization said. “No federal body has a greater need to create and preserve racial justice than the Federal Communications Commission.”

As a start, the commission should ensure that minority voices have access to competitive technical facilities. Even though minority broadcasters are voices and conscience of their communities, these broadcasters often must compete using inferior technical facilities, according to the group.

The MMTC also pressed the commission to act on several pending proposals that would advance minority broadcast ownership. Some of these include granting an FM booster rule change that would authorize FM radio geo-targeting, creating a new station class known as C4 that would double the power of hundreds of small FM stations and repealing the rural radio policy that deprives small broadcasters of the opportunity to improve their signal coverage.

The organization also wants to see the commission establish a ubiquitous equal procurement program, similar to the cable procurement rule, which ensures that women- and minority-owned businesses have a fair chance at winning major contracts by requiring cable MSOs to disseminate major procurement opportunities (like laying fiber or installing equipment) broadly enough to reach eligible minority- and women-owned companies. Not only does this help these organizations grow and provide jobs, it helps drive down the prices. In addition, a more diverse pool of multiple suppliers of a key product will deepens the pool of talent and entrepreneurial mettle, it says. “Ubiquitous equal procurement opportunity would be a classic ‘win-win’ for everyone,” the organization said.

The commission should also ask Congress to restore and improve the tax certificate policy and create a tax credit for donating a station to a training institution. The 1978–1995 tax certificate policy “was by far the most effective vehicle for advancing minority broadcast ownership,” the MMTC said, noting that the policy quintupled minority broadcast ownership over the 17 years that it was in operation.

The organization also pressed the FCC to include diversity, equity and inclusion impact statements in all applicable rulemakings. “What gets measured gets done,” the MMTC said. “The commission should seek comment looking toward adoption of a universal policy where every rulemaking of general applicability will contain a diversity, equity and inclusion impact statement.”

In addition, the commission should put more bite behind its equal opportunity employment rules and begin prosecuting licensees that primarily recruit new employees by word of mouth. “[D]espite the continuing prevalence of low minority representation in influential broadcasting jobs, the commission has not brought a single discrimination prosecution since 1994,” the MMTC said. The commission should also commit to collaborating with the Department of Labor and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to investigate what the MMTC calls “abysmal diversity performance” displayed year after year by many high tech platforms.

The MMTC also wants to see the commission correct deficiencies that it sees in the radio incubator program. This program, which was established in June 2021, needs one update: it should only allow for incubation waivers in similar-sized markets.

Finally, it says it is time for the commission to ensure there is widespread access to multilingual emergency information, the organization said. The MMTC and the League of United Latin American Citizens have repeatedly asked the commission to ensure that basic information in widely spoken languages such as Spanish be available in the wake of major storms. This is a step that can be taken with minimal regulatory intervention and will immediately support and protect multilingual populations in emergencies, the group said. “It is simply unconscionable that a person’s lack of English fluency can become a matter of life or death in an emergency situation,” the MMTC said.

The MMTC hopes that the commission will seize the moment it now finds itself in and take a stand.

“Hopefully, looking back on 2021, future students of history will recognize the FCC as an agency that seized the moment and swiftly affirmed its commitment to racial justice by undertaking initiatives that will ensure that equal opportunity is present in our most influential industries,” the MMTC said.