September 22, 2014 - 5:27 pm
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

Two-hundred twenty-seven years ago this week, the U.S. Constitution was ratified in Philadelphia, establishing our system of government and enshrining a vision of a more perfect Union that still guides us today. Part of that vision was the belief that promoting communications promotes a healthy democracy. The Constitution established the Postal Office, in part to help subsidize the press and to facilitate the distribution of news and information to the American people.

Today, I spent the day in Philadelphia and saw just the latest evidence that, while the technology has changed, our Founding Fathers’ insight into the importance of communications to our democracy’s health remains evergreen.

I met with local leaders who explained how people in their communities needed access to modern communications not only to stay informed, but also to find jobs, to further their education, and to and engage with their elected leaders.

I visited Philadelphia’s Free Library, which serves a community on-ramp to the world of information, especially for children and for people on fixed incomes. And, increasingly, this information is not found in books but on the Internet. Philadelphia residents who don’t have computers are visiting the Free Library to get online. And area students visit the library after school to use the computers to help complete their homework assignments.

The FCC’s E-Rate program has helped ensure that libraries and schools across America have Internet connectivity. This past July, the Commission approved the first major modernization of the E-Rate program since it was established 18 years ago. These reforms will substantially increase funding available to support Wi-Fi connectivity in libraries and schools, will make the program more user-friendly for libraries, and will increase efficiencies to make E-Rate dollars go farther.

While at the Free Library, I spoke with local library administrators, teachers, and parents to talk about how E-Rate is working for them, and if there are additional reforms the Commission should be pursuing to make it work better. I particularly enjoyed hearing from two students from The U School who spoke eloquently about the importance of having Internet access at their school and how technology had become integral to their education.

Meeting the information needs of communities requires not only universal access to Internet connectivity, but also having a diverse array of voices on all media platforms.

One way to ensure diversity of content is to encourage diversity of media ownership.

The Internet has created an environment where ownership of traditional media facilities is less important, which is one more reason why we need to make sure every American gets online. But when there’s few minority-owned TV stations in the country, clearly we must do better.

Earlier in the day, I had a separate meeting with Philadelphians who are using public access television, AM radio, and independent print outlets to engage and inform minority audiences. I also heard from Brigitte Daniel, one the only African-American cable operators in the nation, about how her business is helping to serve low-income communities in the Philadelphia region.

This spring, the Commission launched a comprehensive review of our broadcast ownership rules. I appreciated this opportunity to hear first-hand from various media sectors, the public, and watchdog groups are the realities of the marketplace in 2014 and how these rules can best serve the public interest.

For all the ways we have come to rely on technology to communicate and interact with government, it was great to be in Philadelphia today for some old-fashioned, face-to-face meetings between government officials and concerned citizens. This is democracy in action, and I’m grateful to all the people of Philadelphia who came out today to make their voices heard.