Copps: We should be declaring a national emergency on broadband

Copps: We should be declaring a national emergency on broadband

Written by Ben Resnik

“Access to the tools of the Information Age is a civil right.”

That was the takeaway message from Michael Copps’s speech to the Native Media Conference on Saturday night in Phoenix. The former Federal Communications Commission member and now special advisor to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy program keynotedthe event and received an award for his years of work fighting for digital access in the Native American community.

But Copps’ speech was about more than expressing gratitude for the recognition. It was a call to arms for members of America’s “communities of the ignored”” people with disabilities, minority and diversity groups, rural farmers and villagers, the inner city poor, and Native Americans. His message was about the tremendous challenges, the “tall mountains” that members of these communities face in equal access and equal representation, but also about the enormous advances that are possible when they work together.

The obstacles are stark, he said. Broadband, an increasingly necessary resource for participating online, is perpetually out of reach for many, especially within historically disadvantaged communities like those of Native Americans. “We should be declaring a national emergency on broadband,” Copps said in his remarks. “It’s not acceptable that roughly one third of Americans are not connected to broadband “_ In Native lands, a staggering 90-95 percent of households are not connected to broadband!”

Copps touched on another challenge faced by Native Americans in our media: Thanks to conglomeration and control of the airwaves by mega-corporations, community perspectives” especially of Native Americans” have been perennially shut out and replaced with stereotypes.

But there is hope, Copps said. The Tribal Lands Spectrum rules proposed by the FCC could create significant new licensing opportunities for Tribal Nations, allowing those voices to be heard more broadly and clearly. At the same time, in the past several years the FCC has been directed by the government to develop a strategy for implementing broadband service all across the country, he said.

Like everything else, though, progress requires action. The award Copps received was for his work reaching out to the disadvantaged and bringing them into the world of FCC decision-making, work that could not have been accomplished without everyday people striving to improve their communities. The engine of change, as with all battles for civil rights, Copps said, is the courage to stand up. “If your situation isn’t what you want it to be,” Copps said, “step up and go to work with those who want to work with you to make things better.”