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Former FCC Chairs Push Digital-Education Effort

Former Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell has a new job: digital hygienist.

On the eve of the FCC's auction of spectrum reclaimed in the switch to digital TV, Common Sense Media is teaming up with Powell and two other former FCC chairmen to push for government and industry funding of a broad-based digital-media-education initiative.

Common Sense CEO James Steyer called it a long-term effort "to address the fact that kids are living in this digital space today and will be even more so over the next 10 or 20 years."

Common Sense -- joined by Powell, a Republican, and former chairmen William Kennard and Newton Minow, both Democrats -- formed the Digital Kids Task Force. The group cited the billions of dollars expected to be raised by the auction and the spectrum's planned use for advanced wireless services including delivering the Internet to kids.

They want Congress to set up a nonprofit corporation financed through congressional appropriations, donations, grants and other public monies to fund education, centralized research into the impact of digital media on children.

Steyer told B&C the group reached out to the three chairmen because Kennard and Powell were the last two to hold the center seat and Minow -- who once famously called TV a vast wasteland -- had long advocated the public-interest benefits of media education.

Minow has helped to spearhead the Digital Promise program, which he called the forerunner of the task force. That is an effort to put some of the spectrum-auction proceeds into a fund to use technology to "transform education, work-force training and lifelong learning.”

"We want this to be totally nonpartisan," Steyer said.

But aren't the spectrum-auction funds pretty much spoken for in terms of DTV-transition money, deficit reduction and first responders? Steyer said it is not specifically tied to the auction funds. "This needs to be a kids' initiative that drives public resources from the auction fund, or another pot, as well as industry commitment."

Steyer added that the FCC chairmen would not just be names to attract attention, but advisers on the project. He said he had been in close contact with all three in the run-up to the announcement, expected Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C., where Steyer was lining up meetings with the major Hill players, which include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the chairs of the House and Senate Commerce Committees and the House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee, and others.

The task force will approach the major wireless networks, cable companies and others with a stake in that digital future, either for help disseminating information or some funding. “They’re parents, too, Steyer said.

In addition to the FCC trio, the founding members of the task force include Geoffrey Cowan, former dean of The Annenberg School for Communication at USC and former Voice of America director; Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop; Marcy Carsey, founding partner, Carsey-Werner Productions; and Richard Barton, founder of

“We are in a new age of communications and, in order to help parents keep their kids safe and smart," Powell said in a release announcing the effort, “we must introduce them to 'digital hygiene' by teaching them the proper rules for communicating in the digital era."