Washington -- BET Holdings Inc. chairman Robert Johnson
complained to telecommunications lawyers last week that government policies still close
doors on minorities seeking industry opportunities.
Johnson criticized the Federal Communications
Commission's decision to give broadcasters access to six new channels for digital
transmission. Giving broadcasters priority access to frequencies that can also be used by
cable is unfairly blocking new entrants to the industry, he told a lunch audience.
"The old-boy network is given additional spectrum and
additional mandatory priority access on cable television, as if broadcasters should always
retain their position as a priority ... as a First Amendment against anyone else's
right to come in and provide an opportunity for a diversity of voice," he said.
Johnson said broadcasters should not receive the new
digital channels simply because they are shifting over from analog systems, adding that
all companies should have the opportunity to bid for the new spectrum.
Johnson, who said the telecommunications industry is
ultimately a creation of government policy, added that minorities did not receive access
to the spectrum when the government was giving away the rights earlier this century.
"The telecommunications industry is a creation, by and
large, of government policy," he said, calling spectrum regulation government's
key role in telecommunications. "If you were an African American in the early 1920s
and 1930s when the spectrum was being handed out ... you lost your opportunity to be an
ultimate player, and for that reason, today, there are no African-American Clear Channels
[Clear Channel Communications Inc.], no NBCs ... or AT&Ts [AT&T Corp.]."
Johnson also said an effort by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
to provide tax breaks for small telecommunications businesses was contradictory because it
claims to promote diversity but it does not help minorities enough.
Under the plan, large buyers like Johnson would not be able
to benefit because their net worth would exceed a cap that has yet to be determined.
He added that the effort would prevent minorities from
being players in anything but very small telecommunications ventures.
States News Service