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Dear Mr. Bolt:

As you prepare for your PBS series on "The Digital Divide," I invite you to
explore the website of the Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy at
http://www.civilrightsforum.org. I've appended a list of current articles
and speeches, located at http://www.civilrightsforum.org/articles.htm.

The Forum works to bring civil rights organizations and community groups
into the current debate over the future of our media environment. The twin
goals of the Forum are to
introduce civil rights principles and advocacy to the implementation of the
1996 Telecommunications Act, and to reframe the discussion over the role of
media in our society around the needs of communities and the rights of
citizens.

While we are concerned about the "digital divide" in terms in internet
usage in the home, this a narrow, urban-centric and somewhat elitist
framing of the real problem of communications in the digital age. For
example:

(1) About 86% of Hispanics and African-Americans do not have basic home
telephone service -- inspite of the FCC LifeLine and LinkUp programs.

(2) Increasing deregulation of the media has resulted in decreased minority
ownership of media outlets: e.g., during 1996, there was a loss of 26 Black
radio stations, while
there was a net loss of seven stations in 1994 and a net gain of ten
stations in 1995.

(3) The transition to digital television will effectively block out
minority-owned and local outlets. Only high-power television stations were
given free spectrum to develop high definition television services. Low
power and secondary public television stations were not included in this
"$70 billion give-away" -- and in some instances their own spectrum was
taken away.

(4) Educational and public community centers that provide internet access
in rural and disadvantaged communities are under attack. As you know,
funding for the Schools and Libraries Corporation (SLC) program of the FCC
Universal Service Fund has been cut in half, due to intense lobbying of
AT&T and other traditional telephone corporations. The tax-exempt status of
Oregon Public Network (OPN) is under intense scrutiny by the IRS -- with
devastating implications for all educational and charitable institutions
which try to provide a free or low-cost alternative to the increasingly
powerful commercial internet service providers (ISP's).

(5) The FCC currently has a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) and Notice of Proposed
Rule-Making (NPRM) on the implementation of Section 706 of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996, which is concerned with the deployment of
advanced telecommunications services (ATS). Virtually all of the discussion
is directed at ensuring competition between different providers. However,
little attention is paid to rural and disadvantaged communities which may
not have a single ATS provider -- unless the FCC provides significant
economic incentives and regulatory relief.

I sincerely hope that your vision of the "Digital Divide" will be broader
than the popular mass-media and inside-the-beltway focus on home use of the
internet. More is at stake than the privilege of surfing the web in your
livingroom. Equal participation in the evolving digital society is critical
for the survival of rural and disadvantaged communities -- and for
maintaining and expanding democracy in America.

Thank you for your consideration.

-- Barry Forbes
_________________________________________

Civil Rights Forum on Communication Policy
Articles and Speeches

Open Letter To the Civil Rights Community:
The Debate Over the Public Interest Obligations of Digital Broadcasters
This open letter urges the civil rights community to become engaged in this
timely
debate over what obligations digital television broadcasters owe the
communities they
are licensed to serve.

Communications Policy is a Civil Rights Issue
The struggle for equal access and equal opportunity continues in the
digital age.  This
article reframes the communications policy debate around the rights of
citizens and the
needs of communities.

Open Letter To Foundations:
Communications Policy and Civil Rights
"Those who can articulate the challenges faced by ordinary Americans have
ceded the
communications debate to the business community."  This article explores
the historic
and present-day link between communications policy and foundations that
promote,
equity, empowerment and democratic engagement.

Public Interest Obligations of TV Broadcasters
"Television can be a powerful tool for democracy and civil society."  This
speech
explores past methods and recommends future proposals for empowering everyday
people in their political relationships with local broadcasters.

Telecommmunications Act of 1996: Cause for Concern
"The passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 established significant
measures
to promote and protect the interests of all Americans...[and] the early
signs suggest a
cause for concern."  This report reviews eight important sections of the
Act and offers
some policy recommendations to get us back on track.

CBOs and the contest over Communication Policy
Community Based Organizations represent a powerful alternative vision for
the digital
age that focuses on serving the real needs of everyday people. This article
urges CBOs
to awaken the political power of the people by articulating a set of
policies and
organizing support around them.

Open Letter To Foundations:
Communications Researchers Need Your Support
This letter is a result of a meeting of communication scholars and
practitioners which
challenges the mainstream foundations to become effectively engaged in
communication policy to "protect the interests of the powerless in the
digital age."

New Ideas For a Digital Future
A Speech for the Minnesota Meeting:  "Will advances in communications help
to solve
economic and political challenges, or will the new digital technology
create an even
deeper division in our communities?"

The Decline In Minority Broadcast Owners
This speech was delivered by CRF Director Mark Lloyd Before the Annual
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Conference in Chicago.

____________________________________________
Barry Forbes, Dir. of Community Programs
Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy
818 18th St, NW, #810, Washington DC 20006
Voice: 202-887-0301  Fax: 202-887-0305
Web: http://www.civilrightsforum.org