Opinion: Deregulation We Can All Agree On

Last January, I said goodbye to the Federal Communications
Commission, but not goodbye to some of the issues that had a profound impact on
me both as a commissioner and a citizen. During this historic economic
downturn, as we as a nation are turning our minds and thoughts to recovery and
reinvestment, I would like to highlight the very real circumstances faced by
women, minorities and small business generally in gaining access to capital to
buy and build broadcast companies. However, this is not merely to showcase the
problem; it is about concrete, effective actions which can be taken by
government and the private sector alike so that we will be ready as capital
becomes available again.

Radio waves are not partisan, nor are they liberal or conservative, but their
use does affect every single American. They are a national resource that must
be protected, safeguarded and open-just like our national parks-for all of us.

I was proud to be part of the FCC that unanimously
took the unprecedented step of adopting thirteen specific recommendations to
encourage more diversity.  Some of the
FCC's initiatives have great promise -relaxation of rules to jump-start the
seller paper market, and its ban on racial discrimination in broadcast
advertising. Periodically, the FCC needs to review these policies and analyze
their results.  Last summer, we held an
historic hearing
in Harlem with some of the most influential Wall Street lenders and moderated
by CNBC's Erin Burnett.  What an earful
we received:

  • The National Association of Broadcasters identified access to
    capital as "the largest roadblock to a more diverse broadcast industry.
  •  Women
    comprise more than half of the population, and yet the representation of women
    in ownership positions is strikingly low -3.4% of radio stations and 5% of
    full-power television stations.  Only 7%
    percent of the directors of the fourteen largest radio companies are women,
    despite the fact that over 50% of all radio stations have formats skew to
    female listeners.
  • The story
    is even more dramatic for minority owners: 3% of all broadcast TV and 7.8% of
    commercial radio.

is much more to be done.

If my years in government have left me with one
irrefutable bit of wisdom regarding public policy, it is that government may
have considerable influence, but most of the initiative on practical and moral
issues like diversity needs to come from the hearts and minds of private citizens.  Just last month, Clear Channel Communications
donated four (4) radio stations to the Minority Media and Telecommunications
Council and  will now be used for
training women and minorities to be broadcast account executives, programmers,
managers and owners.  Certainly, there are
positive tax consequences for the donors, but more importantly, this will
provide more diversity of our airwaves - a gift that will truly keep on giving
for years to come.

So with that in mind, here are
my top ten suggestions for what both the public and private sectorcan
do to promote diversity:

1. The most effective
diversity program the FCC ever had - and I hope Congress brings it back soon -
was the Tax Certificate Policy, developed in 1977 under Republican FCC Chairman
Richard Wiley and authorized in 1978 under Democratic FCC Chairman Charles
Ferris. As the stimulus package looks to tax incentives, what better time than
now to act.

2. Last
year, I challenged the FCC and continue to urge additional access to capital
hearings on a regular basis and in other financial and media centers like Los
Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, and Dallas.

3. Investors
must make diversity a priority in their overall portfolios. By 2020, the
majority of high school graduates will be non-white, so diversity will be
increasingly good for the bottom line. Women and minorities at the top of their
firms should make it a priority, from the top down, to value and invest in
diversity. Investors whose portfolios include family businesses should consider
establishing set-aside funds to assist women and minorities. 

4. Venture capital firms should
create leadership development programs to better prepare women and minorities
to lead fast-growth businesses, whether high-tech or not; and sponsor forums
like Springboard 2000, the first venture capital forum to showcase women
entrepreneurs, allowing them to present their business plans to angel, venture,
and corporate investors and event sponsors.

5. Major corporations and trade
associations should encourage and sponsor additional research to examine the
process by which men, women-, and minority-led ventures are screened by angel
and venture capital firms, to determine if there are any differences; and based
on that research, establish blind review processes where necessary.

6. Trade associations should
enlist marketing experts and corporate coaches, as well as PR and image
consultants to donate their time to assist borrowers and buyers to present
their best-case scenarios to financial institutions and investors.

7. Companies should track
investments and performance of investments by gender, race, and ethnicity, as
well as geographic location, and sponsor research to examine the extent to
which venture capitalists, angels, and limited partners (pension funds,
endowments, and insurance companies) perceive investments in women and
minority-led ventures as more risky investments.  Trade associations should mitigate risk
adverse decision-making through educational programs for decision-makers to
learn about success stories.

8. States and large corporations
should set aside funds for small, disadvantaged, women and minority
investments.  California does this by
utilizing monies from a pension fund to invest in capital venture funds that
focus on minority media ownership.  So far,
at least eight Hispanic broadcast companies have benefited.

9. Companies should establish
internships and structured mentoring programs to help women and minorities get
into the pipeline so they can eventually be considered for leadership and
ownership positions.

10. The FCC-and indeed all government agencies--should launch
a review of all of agency rules and
repeal the ones that impede diversity while serving no critical purpose.  That's the kind of deregulation all of us can

Particularly in these difficult economic
times, we should redouble our efforts to enable women and minorities to advance
in all types of leadership positions -
from the boardroom to the green room to the control room, behind the microphone
or in front of the camera - in every sphere of influence.  Only then can our media truly reflect the
diversity of our great nation.

Deborah Taylor Tate is a member of the Board of the Minority Media and
Telecommunications Council in Washington,DC; 
Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Free State Foundation, and serves on
the boards of Common Sense Media and Centerstone, Inc. She served as a member
of the Federal Communications Commission until January 2009.