When Comcast first proposed its joint venture with NBC Universal in October 2009, skeptics correctly asked, "What's in it for African Americans and other underserved communities?" We wanted to ensure that the Federal Communications Commission didn't rubber stamp a corporate giveaway that didn't deliver real benefits to the public.
I hope these critics will now take a hard look at what was achieved for African Americans as part of the Comcast-NBCU review process at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Any fair review will find a number of positive advances, particularly in the areas of broadband adoption and minority media ownership, which are significant enough that I felt compelled to offer my strong support.
Broadband Development and Adoption
As access to broadband has become increasingly essential to educational and employment opportunities, African Americans and members of other underserved communities have lagged behind in broadband deployment and adoption. Leaving these communities out of the broadband revolution is unacceptable.
Comcast's new commitments strike at the heart of this important concern. In addition to expanding its existing networks and high-speed service for schools, libraries, and community institutions in underserved areas, the company will launch the Comcast Broadband Opportunity Program (CBOP), which provides families with children eligible for the National School Lunch Program with broadband access for only $9.95 per month, as well as access to affordable computer equipment. Broadband can be a critical bridge to economic mobility and better education, a fact that Comcast is now pledged to more widely publicize in our communities.
Diversity in Media
Any African American viewer can also attest to the need for more diversity in programming. While Comcast has already led with its support for Black Entertainment Television and TVOne, this is an area where "more" truly is "better."
Comcast's pledge to further expand its commitment to minority programming comes as welcome news. With a promise of substantial minority participation at eight of the ten new independent channels it will soon launch, African American and other minority voices will have an even greater impact on what programming reaches our homes. African American ownership will also receive a boost, with significant ownership control over two of four new networks, including the two that will be delivered in the next two years. It's an unprecedented step from an American company and one that will help transform the face of U.S. media for the better.
Of equal importance are the diversity conditions the Commission opted not to impose. Instead of pandering to outrageous requests, many of which came from corporate lobbyists with agendas having nothing to do with increasing media diversity, the Commission helped ensure that the present deal contains effective, measurable conditions grounded in real economic conditions.
I am certain the skeptics will still have some tough questions for Comcast. I hope they'll ask away, but also listen closely to the answers. As a county commissioner, I've learned that practical progress is always preferable to intractable opposition that can't get past its own preconceived notions. If we take the time to listen and to learn, we'll see that these commitments from Comcast, as well as many others, are positive steps toward greater economic empowerment for African Americans and other minorities.