In 1977, at the convention of the World Future Society in
Boston, Digital Equipment Corp. president Ken Olsen said: "There is no reason for any
individual to have a computer in their home."
So much for predicting the future!
As it turns out, in this year before a millennium change,
it shouldn't be as difficult to more correctly prophesize how important computers and
Internet access will increasingly become. It shouldn't be as difficult to confidently
proclaim that competitive communications services will be the great equalizer of Americans
seeking new educational and economic opportunities.
And as it turns out, approaching the year 2000, the cable
industry finds itself smack in the middle of these exciting changes. Compared with the
rollout of other breakthrough communications services and products, the current deployment
of broadband infrastructure to accommodate advanced telecommunications is unparalleled.
So it isn't difficult to see that the cable industry
is spending billions of dollars to upgrade technology and bring exciting programming,
telephone service and Internet access to millions of Americans.
What is sometimes difficult, however, is assuring that the
promise of the new technologies will become a reality to all Americans.
Even with all of the advances of digital technology and the
hope that incredible new services will change people's lives for the better, there
remains no guarantee that the great promise held out by the communications industry -- to
improve American lives -- can be fulfilled equally for all.
But I suggest that we all begin speaking louder and more
often about the need for a renewed corporate social responsibilitythat can help to
make it happen.
For more than 15 years, the Walter Kaitz Foundation has
been a positive and visible force on behalf of the cable industry, pushing to follow
through on the promise to better diversify our work force.
The foundation has been working hard to demonstrate its
corporate social responsibility and to respond to a clear American reality -- that people
of color are increasingly changing the makeup of this nation, and they should have more
influence over communications operations, marketing, ownership and programming.
An industry like ours, which seeks free markets in which to
prosper, must also acknowledge the responsibility to provide opportunity and access--
not only to the services we provide, but also to the employment opportunities that allow
"Opportunity and Access"is the theme of
this year's Walter Kaitz Foundation Dinner in New York. And for some time now, it has
also been the "mantra" of one of this year's dinner speakers.
Since his appointment as chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission, William Kennard has been adamant that the communications
policies he oversees must ultimately have a very public benefit: opportunity and access
Kennard -- who has recently been adamant that cable
companies should be allowed to deploy broadband access without pre-emptive regulation --
continues to be equally vocal about his goals to extend the benefits (the promise) of
competitive communications services to all ethnic, geographically remote and physically
impaired groups in America.
He admits that he's "impatient." He says,
"Those cut off from these high-speed networks today will find themselves cut off from
the economic opportunities of tomorrow. And more important, they will be cut off from the
most important network there is: the network of our national community."
He's right. And increasingly, we hear the reality of
his words from those groups seeking access:
The specter of boycotts to protest the lack of
The efforts by the deaf, hard-of-hearing and
physically impaired to have access to the same innovative communications services and
products serving the general public; and
The news reports about a growing "digital
divide" that find blacks and Hispanics only 40 percent as likely as white households
to be online, making them more reliant on public facilities in schools and libraries.
The cable industry must share both of chairman
Kennard's access goals -- his regulatory approach to Internet access and his
priorities to diversify access to ubiquitous communications.
Individually and collectively, cable is acting to enhance
diverse use of its products and services by all groups. We are continuing our efforts to
wire fast cable modems to schools and libraries, consistently investing in broadband
infrastructure in all neighborhoods served by cable operators, supporting local community
programs that enhance ethnic diversity and conducting important efforts that increase
educational awareness of cable programming that speaks to unique audiences.
And even with a great track record of expanding employment
opportunities in our industry, the Walter Kaitz Foundation cannot be complacent or static
in this new era of technological growth and expectation.
As part of an exerted industry effort, the foundation will
be working closely with the Telecommunications Diversity Network and the National Cable
Television Association to initiate "Reinventing an America of Opportunity,"
which will promote diversity goals by taking greater advantage of assets already available
to our industry.
The foundation will move aggressively -- using
documentaries, public-service announcements, interactive Web sites, ads and posters -- to
build a greater public recognition of the need to diversify the communications
In addition, the foundation will work with its industry
partners to develop a common blueprint that sets standards for an inclusive work force to:
Create a work environment that values the
contributions of all employees;
Educate ourselves to the important benefits of
work-place diversity and leadership; and
Better inform communities of the professional
opportunities in our diverse and inclusive industry.
The initiative marks one small step toward greater access,
but an important one.
I am proud that the staff of the California Cable
Television Association -- headquartered in the ethnically diverse community of Oakland --
is made up of a spectrum of talented people from many backgrounds, lifestyles and
But being diverse isn't enough. Later this month, we
all will take another small step toward better understanding the importance of enhancing
opportunity and access. We will attend a conference ("Beyond Diversity") aimed
at giving us a better understanding of how to think and act beyond the ordinary views of
diversity -- especially in the work place.
We will need many small, medium and large steps to help
make our industry become more diverse. Our success, as businesspeople and individuals,
will increasingly depend on it. And the test of our success will be whether we really do
expand the access to new communications services and, in turn, grow the opportunities for
millions that result from that access.
Please join us in that effort.
Spencer R. Kaitz is president and general council of the
California Cable Television Association. He was the founding director of the Walter Kaitz