Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act

Media 06.15.06

Recipient: U.S. House of Representatives

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with more than 190 member organizations, we are writing to urge you to insist upon the inclusion of strong anti discrimination language in the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act, H.R. 5252. LCCR believes that access to communications is a fundamental right of every American and an essential element of a working democracy; and therefore, we welcome video competition in our nation’s communities. While we are encouraged that Congress is now promoting new competitors in the video marketplace, Congress also needs to ensure that the benefits of such competition are extended to everyone. If these issues are not addressed, we urge you to oppose the final COPE bill.

Marketplace “barriers-to-access” to advanced communications technology still exist today, notwithstanding the strides made by some state and local units of telecommunications companies to roll out advanced services to poor and minority areas. History has shown that these barriers will continue to persist unless policymakers act to stop redlining and other practices with the discriminatory effect of denying or decreasing the availability of such service to these communities.

In this regard, the COPE Act should be improved. The bill should maintain a local nexus in the negotiation and/or enforcement of franchise agreements and contain language to ensure that video providers deploy in a manner that includes all families, including low-income, minority, and rural households. It should also provide equal access to service, upgrades, and repairs. Further, any final bill should contain strong provisions to ensure that new entrants cannot bypass poor and minority neighborhoods.

Without such protections, information redlining could occur even in a very competitive video market. The result would be to exacerbate an already wide “digital divide” so the “haves” in our society end up with considerably more benefits than the “have nots.” LCCR believes this to be an unacceptable result. The House must insist on strong anti-redlining requirements that look at the effect of deployment, and not just the intent of the company providing the infrastructure, as well as strong anti discrimination provisions that hold new entrants accountable to low-income, rural and minority consumers.

We very much wish to work with you in promoting video competition in our nation’s communities. We thank you for considering our views and look forward to working with you to make the benefits of such competition available to all communities, including poor, minority, and rural neighborhoods. If you have any questions, please contact Nancy Zirkin at 202/263 2880 or Corrine Yu, Director of Special Projects, 202/466-5670, regarding this or any issue.