Broadband: With Jessica Rosenworcel
21 minutes

In this episode of Broadband Conversations, Commissioner Rosenworcel chats with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. Commissioner Rosenworcel and Congresswoman Clarke discuss the importance of public service as well as the Congresswoman's work on broadband, diversity in media, and efforts to promote opportunities for girls and women of color.


MS. ROSENWORCEL: Welcome to Broadband Conversations. The podcast where I get to talk to some amazing women from across the technology, innovation and media industries.

You get to hear what they're working on, what's on their minds, and what they think about the future of our digital lives.

I'm Jessica Rosenworcel, and I'm a Commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission. And today I am thrilled to be interviewing one of the great champions of equality, opportunity, and diversity in technology and media. And that's New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here today.

MS. CLARKE: Thank you for having me Commissioner.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So, let's start at the very beginning. I hope you can share with our listeners how you got to Congress. How you got to where you are right now.

MS. CLARKE: Well, you know, it's being, I guess, raised in a community in Brooklyn, New York that was very service oriented. I was surrounded, including in my own household, by people who really thrived in public service, starting with my own mom.

Who was, you know, an organizer in the community. She's an immigrant to the United States. Her and my father are both immigrants to the United States.

So, their way of navigating the system for my brother and I, was to really become acquainted with it. And know how policies were developed.

And make sure that the healthiest climate possible existed for shaping policy, and inclusion. And a whole host of other things that just led me to the -- a sort of curious nature of well, how does all of this work?

And so, I embarked on, I guess, a career in public service, starting at the community-based level. Working with tenant organizing.

And then eventually running for office myself, because quite frankly I had not really thought that I was going to go into this direction, but being engaged with my mom, who was a public servant herself. Was an elected official.

You know, the opportunity sort of presented itself. And I knew that I had been prepared all of my life to serve others.

And so, I decided to run for office. And I ran for the New York City Council. And I was elected to the New York City Council.

And I just love serving people. I also love, you know, making sure that policies are put in place to enhance and promote, you know, the upward mobility of people.

When you come from an immigrant family, that focus on being able to make sure that one generation is able to do better than the generations that proceeded it, is really ingrained in us.

So, it's something that I really have a passion for. Which then led me to run for the United States Congress, because there was a rare retirement that happened during my lifetime of a Congressman in the constituency in which I currently serve.

And that was going to be an opportunity that I felt where I could make a national difference using the experiences that I've had in Brooklyn, New York, serving people at the municipal level.

And taking those concerns, those issues, to a -- the ultimate governance body to make a difference across this country through those experiences is something that I could never have planned for.

But I'm really gratified that I took a leap of faith.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You know, one of the things that I'm not sure everyone appreciates, is that you're from the district that gave us also Shirley Chisholm. Right?

MS. CLARKE: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And you know, she is a dynamo. The first African-American woman to be in Congress, to run for President.

And she made this comment that I think about every day. It's that quote where she says, if they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.

So, when I think about your district, I always think about her and the power of those words. And anyway, I wanted you to talk a little bit about your district and what the history means to you given that you have the privilege of now serving that same district in Congress.

MS. CLARKE: Well, you know, this district is where I was born and raised. So, it's meaningful on multiple levels.

I was the beneficiary of the work of Shirley Chisholm. And -- both politically, legislatively, and otherwise.

Because we knew what it was to see a black woman actually serve in Congress. And to be a part of making that possible.

In addition to that, when I think about when you have that level of activism in the local level, it creates opportunities. And you get to actually witness and participate first hand.

So, there is no doubt in my mind that, you know, Shirley Chisholm being elected to both the State Assembly and the Congress, made it possible for my mother to believe that she could run for the New York City Council being foreign born.

And become the first foreign born woman elected to the New York City Council. It was just a climate that was created by my having such a force of nature as your Congressperson.

In addition to that, there were many people in addition to Shirley Chisholm who were -- she inspired and were -- and that she was inspired by.

And all of that was taking place in central Brooklyn during my formative years and growing up in this community. So, I think the climate was created.

One that I absorbed and took note of. And really participated in just growing up in the district that I now represent.


MS. CLARKE: So -- and she was highly and remains highly influential as an icon to women like me who are passionate about the people that they represent.

I have a very diverse constituency. But, the thing about it is, is that it's my community.

And growing up here, I think uniquely positioned me to embrace all of the diversity, all of its manifestation. You know, because I grew up in a very diverse constituency.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Right. What I love is that her history is part of your history.

MS. CLARKE: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: But, how about if I move you a little bit to the present. Because right now, you sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Which is kind of a big deal. Because that's the Committee that has a direct impact on our country's technology and media policies.

So, going from your district to where you sit in Washington, tell me a little bit about what your priorities are with technology and media on that powerful committee.

MS. CLARKE: Yes. So, you know, the E&C Committee is the oldest standing legislative committee in the House. So, I'm extremely proud --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I didn't know that. I didn't know that.

MS. CLARKE: To have the opportunity to influence our country's policies. You know, I believe it's imperative that we continue to discuss the issues surrounding who we are as a nation. And an accurate portrayal of that.

And particularly in the media. And I've witnessed the fact that, you know, technology offers us a landscape or a canvas if you will, in which to paint the picture of who we are as a nation in very authentic ways.

And it also enables us, you know, to do so much more in terms of how we interface with the world. How we innovate.

And then how we protect ourselves in innovating. Because I'm also a firm believer that if we don't get cybersecurity right, we will create and invite far more greater -- far more greater challenges down the road then we're currently facing.

And we're facing some challenges right now.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's true. So, I know that you serve in an urban community. We talk a lot at this agency and in Washington about rural communities that are falling behind when it comes to digitization and broadband.

But, you pointed out that urban communities, there are pockets that are falling behind too. I'd love it if you could talk a little bit more about that.

MS. CLARKE: Sure. And that's exactly why I introduced the Broadband Deserts Act. It's a piece of legislation that would amend the Communications Act to direct the FCC to conduct an annual inquiry on the availability of advanced telecommunications capabilities in these broadband deserts.

So, my district is an urban area. And we're often hearing about the challenges of making sure that we provide access to the internet and broadband services to rural communities.

They have oftentimes been the most challenging. However, one of the things that I recognized serving an urban district is that where there are pockets of poverty, or there's an impoverished population, there tends to be a commensurate desert in terms of access too broadband.

And the way that I define a broadband desert is that it's a community in an urban area where fewer than 33 percent of the residents have access to sufficient broadband services.

You know, I see this as something that can exacerbate the digital divide if we don't address it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Oh, you bet.

MS. CLARKE: We know that access to broadband, access to the internet and all of these services online, make it more likely that we will, you know, miss an opportunity to democratize our nation.

That there will be those who will be set back tremendously in terms of their American dream of you will or accessing the tools they need to really participate in the American Dream.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's true.

MS. CLARKE: It would be really a missed opportunity for us to make sure that as we innovate, and as we look at ways in which 5G deployed, or you know, that we are taking into account and finding ways to make sure that we are building out an equitable broadband infrastructure.

And that's what this Broadband Deserts Act is all about. It's to bring about a consciousness and holding it accountable with data, about how this will actually impact those areas of the nation --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So first you quantify. And then you find out where it is.

MS. CLARKE: That lack the infrastructure to really connect its population.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's good stuff. We need to do more, I think, to try to understand with incredible precision where broadband is and is not in this country.

Because we'll never come up with good solutions if we don't actually inform ourselves with really high-quality data.

MS. CLARKE: And the important -- and that -- the data is the key. Because we can innovate our way into actually doing it.


MS. CLARKE: It's not as though there's not someone right now working on how we can make this possible. It's having the will to do it.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Right. So, you talked a little bit earlier about diversity in our media beyond just broadband.

But, are there any other comparable steps or legislation or policy ideas you have to make sure that we see a diverse set of views on all of our screens?

What things can we do to incentivize that, and make that occur?

MS. CLARKE: Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things that we have done on Capitol Hill is to establish a Multicultural Media Caucus. I'm a co-chair of the caucus. And so is Congressman Tony Cardenas of California, and Congresswoman Judy Chu, also of California.

And we thought it was important to come together to establish this caucus, which is dedicated to issues related to the state of diversity and inclusion in media and telecom and tech industries.

You know, we're speaking to promote multi-cultural media. One of the things that we believe we can do as policymakers, is be informed by the actual experiences of whether it's -- of a talent, or it is, you know, the actual building of companies.

You know, whatever there -- wherever there may be a challenge in making sure that our media is reflective of, you know, of our nation.


MS. CLARKE: And all of its manifestations and diversities. We again, will be missing another opportunity.

And I think that, you know, as we strengthen ourselves as a nation, it's important that recognition is given to those who are creating quality op -- quality companies, quality content.

And that we make that known so that they can participate to the fullest extent within our media and telecom landscape. And that's what the caucus does.

And that's what we're really excited about bringing to the floor in terms of policy and legislation.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: So, shine a light on the good stuff in other words, right?

MS. CLARKE: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And so, you're not just the head of the Multicultural Media Caucus, I think you're also the co-chair of the Black Women and Girls Caucus.

MS. CLARKE: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: And you know, too often women and women of color are not at the creation or decision-making tables.

So, talk a little bit more about your work with that, and how it relates to technology and innovation.

MS. CLARKE: Yes. Well, you know, one of the things that we wanted to do, and I say we, I'm joined by Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey as the co-chairs of the caucus on black -- of Black Women and Girls.

And what we wanted to do was take a deep dive into the experiences of black women and girls in the United States. And what we can do to do two things.

One, address the challenges that this particular cohort of Americans face on a daily basis. And also celebrate the accomplishments notwithstanding the challenges, right?

And so, we know that the media has portrayed black women and to a certain extent black girls, in a very monolithic portrayal for, you know, generations. We're beginning to see more diversity in that space in terms of those portrayals.

And we think that, you know, as we change the portrayals, the -- and present the multitude of ways in which black women and girls are contributing to society, that, you know, perhaps that creates an opportunity for black women and girls to help shape policy that helps communities to flourish. Right?


MS. CLARKE: And that they're able -- we are able to in this society, add value in a very significant way to the shaping and development of our society.

And by extension, the communities in which we reside, and the opportunities that are afforded black women and girls. So --

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That's some good stuff.

MS. CLARKE: It's a really fulfilling mission that this caucus has.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, we're coming to the end. And Congresswoman, there are a few questions I like to ask everyone at the conclusion of our conversation.

And the first is, going back in a way back machine, because I'm going to ask you, what's the first thing you recall doing on the internet or online?

MS. CLARKE: Oh, wow. Okay. I would have to say it was research. I remember serving as director of a community development organization.

And it was, you know, looking at the websites of various organizations in the community.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: In early days. Yeah.

MS. CLARKE: I think the website became like all the rage at that point.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: All the rage. Yeah.


MS. ROSENWORCEL: Okay. So, much more recently, what was the last thing you did on the internet?

MS. CLARKE: Wow. The last thing I did on the internet was, hum, track my flight.

I was flying between Jamaica, West Indies, and the United States. And was looking at my timing in terms of my flight.

So, I think that was the last thing I did.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: That makes good sense.

MS. CLARKE: Oh, no.


MS. CLARKE: Actually, it was reading the newspaper this morning.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Online, sure. Listen, both of those things sound like the activities of someone in Congress though.


MS. ROSENWORCEL: Is that right?


MS. ROSENWORCEL: All right, final question. What do you think the future of the internet and digital life should look like?

MS. CLARKE: Wow. Well, you know, I think that the internet of things is going to take on more meaning to more Americans due to the internet and digital life.


MS. CLARKE: I think that -- and I'm hoping that, you know, it will become a space where, you know, we're able to bring competing idea. And just sort of build a sense of patriotism towards the innovations that come from the United States.

And that those innovations will come from all manner of individuals who live in the United States.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: I like it. Ending on patriotism. So, --

MS. CLARKE: Absolutely.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Before we go, why don't you tell us where people can follow you, keep up to date with what you're doing.

MS. CLARKE: Sure. I -- well, first of all, let me thank you so much Jessica. This is a very stimulating conversation.


MS. CLARKE: I had to think about some things that I don't historically give a whole lot of thought to, because I've got so many other issues before me.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: You do. I know.

MS. CLARKE: So, thank you for this reprieve.


MS. CLARKE: Folks can go to my website.


MS. CLARKE: The mighty website.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: The mighty website returns.

MS. CLARKE: Or you can visit me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, at @RepYvetteClarke. One word.

MS. ROSENWORCEL: Well, that sounds good. And that does it for another episode of broadband conversations. Thank you for being here Congresswoman Clarke. And thanks to everyone for listening. Take care.