Minority Families in Cambridge Hurt by FCC Decision

Minority Families in Cambridge Hurt by FCC Decision

  • Posted on: 20 October 2002
  • By: owner

As a result of a recent ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), linguistic minority families in Cambridge are losing a popular computer literacy training program sponsored by Cambridge Community Television (CCTV). Serving 60 families annually since its inception in 1997, CCTVâs Family Computer Literacy Program will end in December. Through a unique family-centered approach, this 12-week program gives parents a thorough introduction to computers hardware and software, and coaches them in sharing what they learn with their children.

Funding for the program had come from the cable modem portion of the franchise fees paid to the City of Cambridge by the cable company, AT&T Broadband, and passed on to CCTV. On March 15th, the FCC ruled that cable modem service was no longer a cable service, but rather an information service, and thus not subject to franchise fees. Cable companies pay franchise fees to municipalities as compensation for their use of the streets and sidewalks ("public rights of way") for private gain; the fees help pay for community services such as public, educational, and governmental access channels and facilities. The surprise decision devastated cities and towns all across the country; the loss to the City of Cambridge alone totals hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

CCTV is a nationally recognized public access television station, and received the 2002 "Overall Excellence in Public Access Programming" award from the Alliance for Community Media. CCTV strives to diversify its programs to ensure that everyone can overcome the obstacles in their lives to become active participants in community media.

"With one quick stroke of his pen, FCC Chairman Michael Powell dealt a crushing blow to CCTV - cutting our annual income by 18%. The result will be the demise of many free and low cost educational programs that CCTV provides to those who have no other access to technology," reports CCTV's Executive Director, Susan Fleischmann. "People should be alarmed that this FCC seems to be moving in the direction of limiting or eliminating local control over the public rights of way, handing our streets and sidewalks over to the telecommunications industries. They are accountable to no-one; their only ambition is to own every pipeline into our communities and create ever new and efficient ways for siphoning our money into their pockets."

"This is definitely the end of an era,"says David Zermeno, CCTV's Community Technology Programs Manager and head of the FCLP program. "While most of these parents are low-income, Spanish, Haitian, and Portuguese speakers who use the free computer program to improve their English and literacy skills, others already have a computer at home and come to class seeking help in guiding their childrenâs use of the computer. So, itâs a very sad day, because even though computer training begins at an early age in school these days, who else is insuring that the parents are technologically-educated? For years, CCTV's FCLP program has helped Cambridge families, especially those most in need of help, demonstrate that the most important teacher in a child's life is the parent in the home."

"Learning about computers is a vast new world for many parents," says Andrea Collymore, a graduate of CCTV's Family Computer Literacy Program. "Parents will be better informed if they can be aware of what their kids are accessing on the internet and who they are chatting with. The FCLP course combines literacy with technology providing equal access to a free education to diverse parents and their families."

The final two sessions of the Family Computer Literacy Program are now in progress at the Central Square Branch of the Cambridge Public Library.

"Naturally, CCTV is very interested in finding alternative funding sources to continue or resume services like the Family Computer Literary Program in the future," says CCTV's Director of Operations, John Donovan. "The City of Cambridge takes great pride in its people, its amenities, its resources and resourcefulness. It is a city that has always proudly opened its doors to all comers, and for nearly 15 years CCTV has played a vital role in keeping that door open for the least privileged members of our community. Unlike the FCCâs Michael Powell who admitted hostility towards "angels of the public interest," we at CCTV would welcome them."