Principles for a Successful IP Transition: Diversity

In addition to ubiquitous availability, Americans must have the ability to access and distribute content that reflects the country’s diversity of viewpoints. Last month, the Benton Foundation released The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities. The report, written by Ted Gotsch, includes 10 interrelated principles to help policymakers guide the transition from traditional telephone service to emerging broadband networks. Having looked at Ubiquity and Accessibility in previous posts, we turn today to Diversity. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has for many years adopted policies to promote diversity; it should continue to embrace this goal in the IP transition. Diversity advances the values of the First Amendment, which, as the Supreme Court stated, “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.” In considering media ownership regulation, the FCC has elaborated on the Supreme Court’s view, stating that “the greater the diversity of ownership in a particular area, the less chance there is that a single person or group can have an inordinate effect, in a political, editorial, or similar programming sense, on public opinion at the regional level.” These values do not change with the migration to digital networks. In fact, since, as FCC Commissioner Pai recently said, “[c]onvergence is now the norm,” it only makes more sense to keep diversity in mind when considering information and telecommunications services. The IP transition should advance:

  • Viewpoint diversity to make sure that the public has access to a wide range of diverse and antagonistic opinions and interpretations. The diversity of viewpoints ultimately received by the public should be increased by providing opportunities for varied groups, entities and individuals to participate in the different phases of the broadband industry.
  • Outlet diversity to ensure a variety of independent owners control broadband outlets.
  • Source diversity so the public has access to information and programming from multiple content providers.
  • Program diversity to provide a variety of programming formats and content.

By advancing diversity in the IP space, the FCC will also advance its goal of broadband adoption by helping to create a service that is more relevant to people’s lives. Research has already identified diversity to be an issue in broadband adoption. Consumers of color are less likely than whites to have access to home Internet service. So, especially for those individuals, access to reliable phone service remains critical – for access to health advice, social services, civic participation, employment opportunities, information, or contact with family and friends. The Internet presents an opportunity to bring together populations that are often isolated, including rural communities and seniors. Traditionally, the voices of larger audiences took precedence in the media until the creation of the Web, which offered a user-generated platform for a broader diversity of voices. The IP transition needs to ensure that continues, several advocates said. Being able to create content is essential, Tony Sarmiento, Executive Director of Senior Service America, Inc., observed. “When we talk about programs, there is an overemphasis on people consuming information and not enough on producing content,” he said. “Everyone needs to be able to get their message out.” A diversity of opinions and views made available via the Internet is essential for different communities to gain a better understanding of one another, said Tobey Dichter of Generations on Line. “Diversity means to understand the experiences of everyone,” she said. “If [policymakers] don’t understand that, we are going to be in big trouble as a nation.” Many commented that Internet availability is particularly important for people who do not have daily social interactions, be it due to location, age or some other reason. Edyael Casaperalta of Center for Rural Strategies noted that many in rural areas don’t feel “well represented in national conversations.” Moreover, often when they are represented, it is in a stereotypical manner. She noted that the creation of an Internet news service called the Daily Yonder, for example, helps keep rural Americans informed about issues important to them. The same is true of senior citizens, said Tom Kamber of Older Adults Technology Center. He noted his group runs, a New York City-based site geared towards seniors. While some of the content is geographically specific, the issues generally are relevant for older Americans everywhere. “Older adults are thriving and full of good ideas,” he said. “It is an important resource for them.” Web sites like that show what is possible if the IP transition is allowed to flourish, he added. “The IP transition could be [an] … amazing opportunity to build these long-lasting partnerships,” Kamber said.