WASHINGTON - Last summer, Comcast announced that, pending the approval and completion of its merger with NBC Universal (NBCU), it would allocate $20 million to finance the early stages of digitally-focused minority businesses.
Comcast’s pledge, which was first declared in a letter to U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush (IL), outlined ways in which the company intended to expand its commitment to diversity and minority involvement in the development of “new media content and applications.” The letter also explained how Comcast planned to use the new venture capital fund to create a minimum of 10 new digital networks with African American majority ownership, as well as provide support for training, internship, and mentoring programs for minority students. The company also promised that within six months of closing the Comcast-NBCU merger, which officially occurred on January 28, it would extend its carriage of African American-oriented programming and services.
With the transaction now complete, Comcast can now begin rolling out all of the various diversity programs and initiatives that it pledged to undertake last year. Ultimately, this merger is a win for all Americans, especially minority and low-income consumers who have largely been left out of the digital equation. With the creation of new minority-owned networks and more minority-based programming, the media landscape will finally begin to reflect the true racial composition of our great nation.
The merger was also notable and beneficial to minorities in other ways. These stemmed primarily from two conditions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) upon approving the transaction. First, Comcast is required to expand its existing broadband network to reach 400,000 additional homes and six additional rural communities. This condition includes providing free video and high-speed Internet service to 600 new schools or libraries in underserved, low-income areas. Bringing additional access to unserved and underserved parts of the country and to critical anchor institutions like schools and libraries will be a boon to millions who remain offline.
Second, Comcast must make broadband available for less than $10/month to approximately 2.5 million low-income households. These households must also be offered the option of purchasing personal computers or netbooks for less than $150. These stipulations have the potential to transform the lives of low-income and minority Americans, as they open the door to a myriad of educational and employment opportunities enabled by this critical technology.
These steps are essential to addressing the yawning digital divide separating millions of minority and low-income households that have yet to adopt broadband from those that are already capable and experienced broadband users. Study after study has found that more than half of Black, Hispanic, and low income households remain unconnected to broadband. Closing this divide is essential to positioning the U.S. for continued economic growth and prosperity across every demographic group. As such, broadband adoption must be the policy priority for entities like the FCC. The Comcast merger conditions signify an affirmation by the Commission that they aim to address this issue in 2011.
This merger, if properly executed, is poised to be one of the most pivotal tools in changing America’s digital landscape. At MMTC’s Broadband and Social Justice Summit in January, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that closing our nation’s “digital divide” is “one of the most important civil rights issues of our time,” a statement that aligns with our mission to ensure that every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, has the same chance at being a first-class digital citizen in the 21st century. Our work with One Economy and the Broadband Opportunity Coalition demonstrates our commitment to these issues. We look forward to working with the FCC as a partner in these efforts.
David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.