The digital divide and digital redlining, zone casting and overall access to the internet for Black and brown communities top the agenda of Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.
With three Democrats and two Republicans, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) counts as an independent government agency overseen by Congress. Its chief responsibility begins with implementing and enforcing the nation’s laws and regulations surrounding communications. In addition, the body regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.
Starks, who will soon mark five years at the FCC, believes communications technology has the potential to be one of the world’s most potent forces in promoting equality and opportunity.
“To unlock that potential, however, all Americans must have access,” Starks said during an appearance on the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s live morning news broadcast, Let It Be Known.
“What we regulate is the infrastructure of the internet – the pipeline,” he said, noting further that the FCC protects consumers and promotes universal service.
“We’ve been talking about the digital divide for over 30 years,” Starks said. “It’s no longer just the digital divide – these are issues of equity, fundamental issues of fairness about who’s connected and who’s not.”
Starks said he’s focused on the data that shows a disproportionately high number of Black and brown individuals who remain disconnected on the affordability issue.
“The good news is that Congress has heeded that call and we now have over $14 billion [to help] those with low income, those on SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, and public housing,” he said. “So, if you are [in those categories], we will help you get connected to the internet free. We’ve got to do better and ensure our brothers and sisters are connected. This helps with job opportunities, telemedicine and telehealth. There are so many reasons we have to do so, and I’m passionate about this.”
Earlier this year, the FCC launched a task force to target digital discrimination and “digital redlining.”
Commissioners noted that everyone, regardless of where they live and who they are, needs access to complete high-speed broadband services for 21st-century success.
“Where broadband networks get built shouldn’t be determined by the income, race, ethnicity, or religion of the communities they will serve,” officials noted in a release.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act requires the FCC to create rules and policies to address digital discrimination and redlining to promote equal access.
“The task force was part of the Infrastructure Law,” Starks said. “I’ve seen digital discrimination firsthand in my travels. So we’re taking a hard look to ensure digital equity throughout the country. That’s the chief goal.”
Starks also addressed ZoneCasting, the FCC rule that allows stations to broadcast geo-targeted content for five minutes or less each hour.
“ZoneCasting is a new technology that’s before me as a commissioner. It’s the ability to use boosting to advertise better locally,” Starks said.
“I have been honored to hear from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and so many of their colleagues who have made clear that this makes sense for small Black and brown radio stations. I’m working with my colleagues to make sure they know and recognize the value of increasing the ability of small Black and brown radio stations to have hyper-local advertising,” he said.