Federal Communications Commission

Prepared Text - Japanese American National Museum

July 15th, 2010 by Admin User


Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband Phoebe Yang delivered this speech to an array of community groups last week at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, CA.

It’s very fitting that we should come together today at the Japanese American National Museum to talk about how Asian Americans must be empowered to benefit from the communications network of the 21st century – broadband.

Today, being back in California, I am reminded of the immense sacrifices early Asian Americans made for this country – in the pursuit of the vital goal of connecting people across this vast land to one another.

Today, America has 306 million people to connect – and like in previous centuries with the railroads, telephones, and highways – including voices like those in this room is critical to our nation’s economy, security, and future.

When I shared with some individuals that I was planning on coming here today, their response was that Asian Americans represent such a small minority of the American population – why not focus on other groups? My reply was simple – while all Americans should benefit from all that broadband has to offer, and other groups are also critical to our goals of inclusion, you can’t ignore the role of Asian Americans in building the technology and communications networks of the past, and we would be foolish to underestimate the innovative creativity and spirit of Asian Americans in shaping the communications networks of the future.

Over 20 years ago, when I was a student at the University of Virginia, I founded the Asian Student Union and the Asian Leaders’ Council, to bring together the diverse interests and experiences of different Asian American communities. Due to the limitations of technology at the time – think photocopiers and 25 cents/minute long-distance phone service – it was a struggle for our voice to carry far beyond Charlottesville, Virginia. But within a few years, when I was studying in Singapore, the start of mass Internet communications – e-mail – allowed me to stay in touch with friends and family back in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Today, broadband is reshaping more than ever the way that our voices carry, and the impact we can have. It’s indispensable infrastructure for job creation, free speech and 21st century innovation. But until 2009, America lacked a plan to harness the power of broadband to achieve these ends.

So as part of the Recovery Act, Congress and the President charged the FCC with developing a national strategy to bring high-speed Internet and its benefits to all Americans. In March, we released the result of that effort: Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan.

Today, I want to talk with you a little about what the Plan found, what it recommended, and what you can do to help make universal broadband a reality.

What We Found

In their charge to the FCC, Congress asked us to write a plan that would “ensure that all people of the United States have access to broadband,” drive “maximum utilization of broadband infrastructure and service by the public,” and advance certain national purposes, like health care, education, energy, and public safety.

What we found was that 14-24 million Americans can’t get access to broadband, even if they want it, and that a much larger group – a full third of Americans – don’t subscribe, for reasons of cost, digital literacy, and relevance.

The National Broadband Plan also found that mobile broadband is likely the future of broadband. But the radio frequency, or spectrum, that mobile devices like smart phones and iPads need to operate is in short supply. Research firms project that by 2014, mobile data traffic in North America will be 20-50 times larger than it was just five years earlier, in 2009. If we want America to be the world leader in broadband, we’re going to need to unleash spectrum for mobile broadband uses.

Broadband has still not been integrated into major sectors of our economy. Health care providers and patients still can’t take full advantage of improved health outcomes, cost savings, and real-time information that remote monitoring and electronic medical records provide. Kids are still using 50-pound bookbags rather than electronic books carried on devices like the iPad or Kindle. We haven’t yet built a broadband-enabled smart grid that lets consumers track their energy use and save money on their electric bills. And nine years after 9/11, we still lack a nationwide, interoperable wireless public safety network to allow our first responders to communicate effectively.

In the process of developing the Plan and since its release, we’ve also learned more about the current state of broadband availability, adoption and use among Asian Americans. As ZeroDivide and other organizations have pointed out, the Asian American community’s small size relative to other populations, its unusual diversity, and language barriers can make it challenging to draw reliable conclusions about Asian Americans and broadband absent larger sample sizes – especially if we want to look at specific Asian American communities.

But this much we do know. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, here in California 87% of Asian Americans use the Internet, compared to 80% in 2008, and 77%, quote, “have access to high-speed broadband Internet at home,” compared to 67% in 2008. The US Department of Commerce says that 67% of non-Hispanic Asian Americans use broadband in the home – that’s up from 60% as of 2007. So California may be a little more advanced than the rest of the country.

We also know that some subgroups of Asian Americans, like Hmong, have demographic characteristics that correlate with low broadband adoption rates – like living in rural areas, or having lower median incomes. I’ll give you an anecdote – the Social Science Research Council did a study of non-adopters for the FCC in March of this year. They sampled 171 individuals, including an oversampling of minority and immigrant populations. And they found that nearly everyone they sampled owned a cell phone – except a group of Hmong youth from Minnesota.

One of our findings in the broadband plan was that mobile broadband applications may be a particularly strong gateway for broadband adoption – but you can’t have mobile broadband if you don’t have a mobile device. So as we work to bring broadband to all Americans, it’s going to be critically important to understand the sensitivities of how different groups interact – or don’t – with broadband.

These are some of the things we found – let me share a bit of what we recommended.

What We Recommended

In the Plan, we set an aspirational goal that by 2020, every American should have affordable access to robust broadband service and the means and skills to subscribe if they so choose.

At the FCC, we run a program called the Universal Service Fund, or USF, that provides about $9 billion/year to build out universal availability of telephone service and provide low-income Americans with discounts on telephone service through our Lifeline and Link-Up programs (our friends at the California PUC have a table outside describing these programs). And USF enables critical institutions -- like America’s schools, libraries and some rural hospitals – to connect to voice and Internet service.

Right now, about $5 billion of that $9 billion goes to building out telecommunications infrastructure to high-cost, unserved areas. But in a world where broadband is central to how we apply for jobs, educate our kids, pay our bills and claim our voices, it simply doesn’t make sense to subsidize the services of the past at the expense of the services of the present and future.

So the Plan recommends reforming the Universal Service Fund to create a new Connect America Fund that would directly support the build-out of broadband infrastructure that can provide both phone service and high-speed Internet access, particularly in hard-to-reach rural or unserved areas.

Second, we wanted to make sure that access to that infrastructure was affordable. While creating the Plan, we conducted a survey of the reasons why Americans don’t adopt broadband, and the #1 reason was that it’s too expensive. So the National Broadband Plan proposed expanding our Lifeline and Link-Up programs --- which traditionally have gone only to voice -- so that consumers can use those discounts to purchase broadband which is capable of supporting voice and Internet service as well. And in June we brought together over a dozen experts, including a California Public Utilities Commission representative, to talk about how to design such an expansion of those programs. We hope – with the help of the states, like California – we can move forward with these reforms.

Finally, we wanted to make sure that everyone has the means and skills to subscribe to broadband. I mentioned already that the #1 reason that people don’t subscribe to broadband is cost. Well, the #2 and #3 reasons are that people don’t have the digital literacy skills to use broadband effectively, or that they don’t find it relevant to their everyday lives.

So the National Broadband Plan recommends the federal government create a national Digital Literacy Corps -- modeled on existing programs like AmeriCorps and City Year. The Digital Literacy Corps would hire youth and recent college graduates to train non-adopting communities in how to use the Internet to search for jobs, get information or even acquire education and job skills online, find consumer health care information, and use the Internet to improve their small businesses and their lives.

One great example of an organization currently providing great digital literacy training, which you’ll hear more about from Lester in a bit, is the Little Tokyo Service Center. And coming out of our work on the National Broadband Plan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is creating a public-private partnership to educate consumers living in HUD-subsidized housing about the benefits of broadband.

The National Broadband Plan pointed out that, in order for these digital literacy and adoption programs to be successful, they have to engage consumers with face-to-face training, often in their native languages, whether Spanish, Thai, Mandarin or Japanese. I have been inspired deeply by many of you who were actively involved with the DTV transition last year, and I want to thank you, on behalf of the FCC, for your tremendous efforts in this. One of the things that made the DTV transition so successful was the commitment and tireless efforts of local Asian-American organizations. For example, Self Help for the Elderly in San Francisco, under Annie Chung, whom I met this morning, provided seniors in the Chinese American community with training on how to install converter boxes, in the Chinese language.

Today, there’s very little digital literacy training online in languages other than English that’s easy to access. That’s why we explicitly recommend that the Digital Literacy Corps target populations whose first language is not English and recruit young people who speak the languages that non-adopters use. Imagine a Tagalog speaker showing Filipino immigrants how to complete tax returns at a public library in Cerritos. We think that this kind of a program could be just as successful, and even more impactful, than the DTV transition, because it empowers people not only to watch TV but to use the powerful Internet platform to search for jobs, get education, expand their customer base, and link interactively to the world.

The FCC is pleased that the federal government has begun funding some adoption programs through a part of the Recovery Act stimulus package called the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP. Just two weeks ago, the Executive Branch announced over 90 new investments in broadband projects, including a grant toward a Vietnamese-American community organization called Boat People SOS to promote broadband adoption in Bayou Le Batre, Alabama. About one-third of the population of Bayou Le Batre is made up of Southeast Asian immigrants, many of whom made their living in the shrimping industry that was devastated by the Gulf oil spill. Most of them speak little to no English, and the high school drop-out rate in Bayou le Batre is the highest in the state. This grant will create three new public computer centers where members of the community can get digital skills training, education and support. This is exactly the kind of adoption effort that we envisioned in the Plan, and exactly the kind of effort that can provide tangible skills and opportunity to an Asian-American community that is really hurting right now.

But digital literacy and broadband adoption aren’t just important for individuals; they’re also important for helping small businesses grow and succeed. Asian Americans have been leaders in the small business community, fueling many of the technology innovations we take for granted today. As the daughter of a small business owner, I know first hand that we want to work with small businesses of all kinds to take advantage of the benefits of broadband communications, and that improving small business improves the lives of everyone in our communities. The FCC has an office dedicated to providing communications business opportunities to small business throughout the country. In fiscal year 2009 we entered into contracts with minority-owned small businesses worth over $17 million.

In the National Broadband Plan, we recommended the creation of a public-private partnership that would equip small business owners with broadband tools, training and services at discounted rates. And so back in April, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the head of the Small Business Administration launched the SCORE Broadband Consortium to do just that. Today, SCORE’s network of small business experts has begun mentoring entrepreneurs in adopting technology and utilizing e-commerce, and in the coming months the program will roll out to local offices, including one here in L.A.

National Purposes

The FCC and our partners in the federal government have also begun taking action to integrate broadband into how we achieve key national priorities – such as health and education.

In the National Broadband Plan, we recommended that the FCC take certain actions to promote health care in America through broadband. Just last month, the FCC and the FDA held our first-ever joint public workshop on ways to enable investment in wireless medical devices. Wireless medical devices can help doctors and patients monitor chronic diseases conditions on a real-time basis – which improves health care outcomes and reduces costs.

The FCC is also reforming the part of USF that supports broadband connectivity in health care facilities nation-wide. We are especially proud of the work that California is doing in this area. Earlier this month, the FCC announced it will provide $22.1 million in support to the California Telehealth Network, which will be the largest telehealth system in the country. This will allow patients in rural and unserved parts of California to have access to telemedicine, specialized medicine, and electronic health records – in the ways that urban patients have. Two weeks ago, Governor Schwarzenegger hosted a ribbon cutting for the California Telehealth Network in Sacramento. We were so excited about this, that my friend the U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and FCC Wireline Competition Bureau Chief Sharon Gillett attended, to support this event.

The National Broadband Plan also made a series of recommendations to improve education in America through broadband. This fall, the FCC will begin take steps to improve the part of our USF program called E-Rate, which provides discounts to help schools and libraries pay for telephone and Internet access. In May, the FCC proposed new rules that would enable schools to increase the purchasing power of their E-rate dollars. We would also look to possibly supporting online learning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by allowing use of wireless Internet access service away from school premises. These are important steps in ensuring that schools take full advantage of the possibilities that broadband generates for improved student learning.

What You Can Do

So those are some of the things that we are working on. I want to close by talking about what you, personally can do as we work together to create a more inclusive digital future for all Americans, including all Asian Americans.

First of all, many of you might not have the experience to build broadband infrastructure like conduits and cell towers yourself – I know I don’t. But you can help build the social infrastructure that supports broadband use in underserved and unserved communities. One study has found that people are more likely to buy their first computer if they live in areas where relatively high proportions of their family and friends -- or the community as a whole -- own computers. This makes sense; if your friends and neighbors are using the Internet to look for jobs and talking about how helpful it is, you’ll probably want to do it too. As it was for electricity, telephones, and cars for previous generations, if you have not experienced the power of the Internet, you can’t know how much it can improve the quality of your life.

So we need your help to reach out to other community groups in your area – not just computer centers, but also PTAs, church groups, and senior centers. We need your feedback on how the federal government can be working more effectively with community organizations and innovators. Tell us how we can more effectively scale up the highest-impact local approaches. And if your neighbors, family members, and friends don’t use broadband, start a conversation – you may be surprised at the results.

Second, you can create social innovations that give underserved and unserved communities reasons to use broadband. For example, DonorsChoose is an online peer-to-peer platform that lets people donate to support specific projects at public schools across the country. And the California Office of the Patient Advocate has an online report card, available in Chinese, which allows consumers to compare health plans. But at least today, these are the exceptions, not the rule, and we need more such social innovations in the use of broadband, especially among Asian Americans.

And third, you can produce more social purpose media. Our research while developing the plan showed that broadband non-adopters need access to more relevant, skill-building content. Just like the printing press made access to reading materials available to the many, not just the few, broadband is a democratizing innovation, allowing many more Americans to not just access content, but publish and collaborate on new content. So the Internet itself ends up being a tool for generating content – content that can attract those who do not use the Internet to use it – and they will in turn produce their own content.

So I want you to join me in asking yourselves, and asking your neighbors – what quality content would the unserved and underserved in my community want to see online? How can we create apps and tools that will teach basic digital literacy skills, entrepreneurial skills, or financial literacy skills?


While developing the plan, a distinguished Stanford economist came in and told us that broadband was a “general purpose technology” – an innovation that helps individuals throughout the economy be more productive. But as important as this idea is, by the end of the Plan we came to the conclusion that broadband is only as meaningful as the particular purposes for which people use it to spread their voices. Some use it to video-chat with relatives in Thailand or Tokyo. Some use it to share their pecha kucha presentations electronically, like the presentations that will be featured at this museum tonight. Some use it to build innovative businesses with worldwide scope.

A diversity of purposes and voices. It’s what gives our country’s Asian American community its strength. And it’s what makes broadband indispensable infrastructure for the 21st century. The FCC looks forward to talking and working with all of you to help bring it to everyone.

In closing, I am pleased to make an exciting announcement that will directly benefit the Asian American communities in the United States. As you walked in this morning your eye may have caught the short Executive Summaries of the National Broadband Plan. We brought these with us to share with you, as they summarize the recommendations of the Plan. And, today, here in the Japanese American National Museum, I’m happy to announce that the FCC has now translated that Executive Summary of the National Broadband Plan into six new languages. In addition to English and Spanish, thanks to Lyle Ishida’s leadership, we now have translations in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, and Samoan. We have copies of those translations with us today for you to take with you, and they’re also all available on our website,

I welcome your thoughts and questions, and look forward to continuing to work together to make broadband available and affordable for all Americans, including Asian Americans.

With that, I am delighted to turn the podium over to Rachelle to talk about the great work that the state of California is undertaking to do just that.

Thank you for joining us today.

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