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MMTC's David Honig: Incentive Auctions Are Needed ASAP

The head of the Minority Media & Telecommunications
Council Thursday said incentive auctions need to happen now, that broadcasting
was still relevant, that minority participation in the media was woefully
lacking, that the FCC was well-meaning but failed to see the unintended
consequences of media concentration on minorities, and that antipiracy
legislation was crucial to preventing the digital theft of the cultural
heritage of people of color.

 "We are still nowhere close to closing the wealth
gap, alleviating the impending spectrum crunch, or preserving entrepreneurship
and career opportunities in traditional and new media." That was the
"don't rest on your laurels" message Thursday from David Honig,
president of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, who touched
on many areas of concern in his opening address at MMTC's annual Broadband and
Social Justice Summit in Washington.

He suggested that spectrum incentive auctions needed to be
authorized ASAP to help close the digital divide and put in a plug for the
Protect IP Act and Stop Online Piracy Act as a way to stop the digital
equivalent of the theft of songs, stories and art from people of color. He said
those bills would help protect intellectual property by "chopping the head
off of the dangerous snake of Websites whose only significant purpose is to
steal." He said that would help close the "astronomical wealth
gap" separating African American households from white households.

Honig also suggested there were laurels nonetheless. He
pointed to being able to see minorities and women anchoring and reporting the
news, new broadcast owners getting a foot in the door, and the FCC's
enforcement of advertising nondiscrimination.

But he called the continuing digital divide, which is wider
for minorities than the population in general, as "the greatest threat to
class citizenship since segregation." And while minorities are using
wireless to a greater extent to help close that digital divide, that progress is
threatened by an impending spectrum crunch.

He suggested that freeing up spectrum was an issue of social
justice. A spectrum crunch would inevitably lead to higher prices, he said,
which would again fall hardest on those least able to assume those costs.
"To avert this spectrum disaster, we need incentive auctions to begin
almost immediately," he said, "thus enabling underutilized DTV spectrum to
be repurposed for wireless. Congress can expedite the process through a
comprehensive statute that provides broadcasters with fair compensation as they
decide to relinquish spectrum."

He said the auctions should include designated entry rules
to encourage minority participation. The FCC has said it needs the freedom to
structure the auctions to insure access to spectrum by companies large and

He also said more needs to be done to spur broadband
adoption. He gave the FCC and industry props for their Connect to Compete
initiative, but said that is far from enough.

Honig took aim at the FCC for allowing minority ownership to
languish. "If the Commission recognizes that diversity is an important
tenet in communications policy, why is minority broadcast ownership being
allowed to disappear?  Is broadcasting no longer relevant?" he said.

Honig said it was clearly still relevant. "The truth is
that Americans continue to rely, overwhelmingly, on radio and television for
news, entertainment, and emergency information. The president's State of the
Union Address had over 25 million viewers, network news still draws 22 million
nightly viewers, and 93% of Americans tuned in to AM or FM radio each week in
2010.  Never is broadcasting more important than in times of emergency,
when concerned Americans turn to television and radio over online news and
other sources.  Thus broadcasting couldn't be more relevant."

Honig said the greatest danger to social justice is the
"negligence of those who profess to care and who ought to know

He put the FCC in that category. "The people running
the FCC now are very bright. They're sincere. They're idealistic. They're not
racists. They're well meaning. But they often wear blinders. What their
blinders cause them to miss is the law of unintended consequences."

He pointed to the FCC's duopoly rules and media
concentration, which he said has "deeply diminished minority broadcast
ownership." the FCC is currently reviewing its ownership rules, but has
not proposed tightening duopoly rules beyond possibly counting joint operating
and service agreements toward local ownership caps.