Are African-Americans missing out of broadband access? Well, according to a study by the FCC Omnibus Broadband Initiative, only 59% of African-Americans have adopted broadband (high-speed Internet access) in the home compared to 67% of the overall U.S. population. This means that nearly 16 million of the 39+ million African-Americans have not adopted broadband. BET is looking to change this.
BET Networks recently submitted a proposal to The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) for a grant under the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which is a part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“BET Networks is proud to have the opportunity to create a public-private partnership with such a strong group of organizations on such an important campaign impacting African-Americans,” says BET spokesperson Kimberlee M. Bradshaw. “And we share the FCC’s commitment to addressing the lagging adoption of broadband among African-Americans and want to be a partner at the table with this administration as it tackles one of its major policy initiatives that disproportionately impacts African-Americans.”
Under the proposal, BET wants to increase the adoption of broadband technology amongst African-Americans through its National Sustainable Broadband Adoption Project (BETN-NSBAP). The BETN-NSBAP aims to, according to the proposal, “address three problems: (1) increasing the awareness of "the promise" of broadband technology; (2) increasing the relevance of broadband technology to marginalized African-Americans; and (3) increasing the digital literacy of those who have been "left behind" in as many targeted communities as possible.”
For the proposed project, BET has partnered with the National Urban League, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, HealthCentral, Kaplan Ventures, MedHelp.org, One Economy Corporation and Tutor.com.
“The proposal will allow the National Urban League to attract millions of viewers to its social media campaign: www.iamempowered.com  <http://www.iamempowered.com/> ,” says National Urban League spokesperson, Teresa Candori. "Under the proposal, the iamempowered.com <http://iamempowered.com/>site will be embedded in a powerful new online platform being developed by BET. As such, the National Urban League will have access to the millions of online viewers that BET attracts.”
In order to accomplish the goal, BET says it will conduct a two-year broadband awareness and adoption campaign targeting African-Americans using all of the network's media platforms. Also planned are traditional advertising spots, public service announcements, on-screen graphics, in-show integrations and dedicated TV shows on the BET and Centric cable networks and digital properties.
“The National Urban League believes that the digital divide represents one of the greatest risks to future economic empowerment for African-Americans and other communities of color,” adds Candori. “This proposal will allow the National Urban League to raise its crusade for digital literacy and broadband adoption to an exciting new level.”
The importance of broadband access, according to the FCC, is extensive. The FCC says that broadband provides the “technical capability to access a wide range of resources, services and products that can enhance your life in a variety of ways.”
The reason so many have been left out is lack of capital. “Media consolidation and lack of access to capital are key contributing factors to the lack of diversity in media and telecommunications. Other contributing factors include discrimination in advertising placement and lack of job opportunities at the executive ranks, which serve as a pipeline to experience and ownership,” notes Candori from the National Urban League. “Minority entrepreneurs represent a fraction of broadcast journalism, radio, TV and wireless broadband industry totals. With respect to broadband, almost no minorities have been able to acquire wireless spectrum. This public good was allocated through auctions, which favor the highest bidder. And now we are facing a situation where young people of color still lag behind in terms of digital literacy and proficiency.”
According to Candori, the efforts to create more access should be a joint effort between government and the community. She explains, "The only way the cycle of exclusion will end is through a coordinated effort and commitment by the government and the private sectors to tackle the root causes of barriers faced by minority media. Instead of auctioning spectrum and other public resources to the highest bidders, they must consider giving bidding credits for such businesses. The minority community must pool resources to focus on training young people to be not just consumers, but creators of the next generation of technologies.”
BET feels it will be the leader in closing the broadband divide. Says Bradshaw, "Given our strong connection to our audience, BET Networks is uniquely well- positioned to drive broadband adoption amongst African-Americans. There have been numerous studies that point to a lower adoption rate for African- Americans within specific subpopulations, particularly those with a lower income, ages 50+ and high school dropouts. Yet it is these communities that would most benefit from the life-improving features of broadband.”