Atlanta -- The Rev. Jesse Jackson has put the cable
industry on notice that his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition plans to make minority and low-income
access to media, technology upgrades and industry employment top priorities.
Jackson -- who, some say, is planning a presidential run in
2000 -- attended the National Show here last week to voice his concerns. A few weeks
earlier, he led a march in Louisville, Ky., asking why the local cable operator (then TKR
Cable, now InterMedia Partners) had not yet committed to a digital upgrade within the city
when it was already building out some of the surrounding communities.
"There's nothing more fundamental than access to
the word, access to the media, access to information," Jackson told reporters on the
eve of the National Show, May 3.
Earlier that day, Jackson met with National Cable
Television Association president Decker Anstrom and Leo J. Hindery Jr., president and
chief operating officer of Tele-Communications Inc.
Anstrom said later that he and Hindery told Jackson that
they were committed to ensuring that everyone is part of the information age, and to
seeing that no child gets penalized because of where he or she lives.
Jackson said the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition would send letters
to the CEOs of the top 10 MSOs, asking them to commit to equal opportunity in employment;
mentoring programs for women and people of color; minority ownership; programming with
diverse viewpoints; and expanded minority contracting.
"We'll make their responses public," Jackson
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition also plans to buy stock in major
media corporations so that it can be present at shareholder meetings, Jackson said.
"We intend to apply public vigilance as shareholders
and consumers," he added.
The issue of redlining is not the same now as it was in
cable's earlier years. No one is denying that most low-income neighborhoods today
have been wired for cable. But the question of redlining is resurfacing in a new context:
Do digital upgrades go to upscale communities first, at the expense of their low-income
"I think that it's an issue," said Jeff
Chester, executive director of the Center for Media Education in Washington, D.C.,
"and the cable industry needs to address it."
Chester said cable operators should not be engaged in
"cream-skimming," and they should deploy technology upgrades equitably.
Clayton Banks, president of the National Association of
Minorities in Cable, agreed.
"With the technological explosions going on now, you
can create 'haves' and 'have-nots,'" Banks said. "I want to
make sure that our industry is holding up to its tradition of providing service to all
Banks said he understands the various issues surrounding
cable operators' decisions to schedule upgrades in certain communities before others.
In some cases, it's because competing services from local phone or utility companies
roll out in higher-demographic areas, and operators are forced to respond by deploying
digital upgrades there sooner than they may have planned.
Even so, Banks said, operators would be wise not to ignore
the "hidden gold" of the inner city.
"What NAMIC is trying to communicate to the industry
is that this is the hidden gold of the future," Banks said. "We all know that
the demographics are changing. It would do us no service to redline in urban areas."
The rate of digital deployment can also be affected by
myths about the return on investment in urban areas, Banks said, as well as by the status
of local franchise agreements.
In the case of Louisville, lengthy franchise negotiations
between TKR and the city kept the operator from deploying a digital upgrade there sooner.
Within about two weeks of Jackson's visit to
Louisville in mid-April, the city renewed its franchise with TKR, which officially became
InterMedia two weeks ago. TCI owned TKR, and it has a 48.75 percent interest in
InterMedia, according to TCI's latest 10K report.
As part of the franchise renewal, TKR committed to
rebuilding the Louisville plant to 750 megahertz within 15 months.
Charles King, western Kentucky regional vice president for
InterMedia and former vice president and general manager of TKR, said Jackson's visit
was unanticipated, and he was surprised when he learned of its purpose.
King contended that allegations of TKR redlining were
"We don't redline," King said.
"It's illegal. We don't do it, and we didn't do it."
The operator had attempted for the past several years to
renegotiate a franchise agreement that would address digital upgrades.
"We wanted a larger window on our existing
franchise," King said. "Everybody else had given us a minimum 15-year
The negotiations took as long as they did partly because of changes on the city Board of
Aldermen and in TKR's ownership, King added.
"I don't think that either party deliberately
delayed this process," King said.
Banks called Louisville "one of those typical
situations" that looked worse than it was.
Ted Hearn contributed to this story.