The Revolution Is Being Televised — on the Internet

The day the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision in
Brown v. Board of Education — May 17, 1954 — has been called “the
most important [day] of the 20th Century.”

In many ways, [that day was part of] a terrible era in America: a
time of murder and a church bombing in Birmingham, and violence in the
streets. It was a bitter period for America. But it was also a time of
hope. For not only did that decision allow millions of African American
children to go to better schools, that decision helped demolish
barriers separating races all over America — whether at lunch
counters, or water fountains, or on the job. It provided opportunity
for millions of Americans — opportunity to go as far in society as
their hard work and potential would allow.

Today; 44 years later, [we’re] being given another opportunity….
For, like people in 1954, we are also in the middle of a revolution —
a revolution of technology.

By itself, that’s not entirely new for Americans. Through much of
this century, technology has fueled our economic growth. Increasingly,
it has defined what each person can achieve in our society, — and what
we can achieve as a nation.

But in span, depth, and speed, the telecommunications revolution
has no precedent. It is changing the way we work, live, think, and
communicate.

You see the signs everywhere. You see it on the streets, where
every third person seems to have a wallet-sized cellphone pressed to
the ear. [And] you certainly see it on campuses, whether in the
computer labs, or using e-mail to communicate with students and faculty
in India, or out on ships surveying dolphin populations.

When an instructor in Kyoto, Japan, gives a Long Island University
writing course to students in Israel and Kenya, you’re not just
watching a revolution; you’re in it. Four in 10 American families have
a personal computer in their homes. More Americans make semiconductors
than work in construction. By the year 2000, 46 million Americans will
be buying products on line.

What about jobs? Well, the United States will need 1.3 million new
workers in information technology occupations by 2006 — well over
100,000 a year. That’s like graduating a class of [400 college
students] every day, seven days a week for 10 years, just to keep up.
[It is a] tremendous opportunity for those prepared to seize it.

But there is another divide in our country that we should be
concerned about. It’s the divide between young people who have access
to technology in their education, and those who don’t. I call this the
“digital divide,” and the dividing line is between the affluent and the
poor; between Black and White.

In the race to bring technology to all of America’s schoolchildren,
we’re not doing the job we should — not when 78 percent of schools in
affluent communities have Internet access, but only half the schools in
low-income areas do; not when the percentage of White children with
home computers is triple the percentage of Black and Latino and Native
American kids.

Whether the inner cities or the tiniest rural towns, this
generation has a responsibility to make sure that all children have
access to the technology that will define what they can become in our
society. They must have access to the tools this generation needs just
as surely as our parents needed a hammer or screwdriver or typewriter
— or the ability to read.

And this challenge to bring equality of access to technology to
education is every bit as important and profound for our country as the
challenge to bring racial equality to education. It’s every bit as
profound and important as the struggle in Brown v. Board of Education.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to visit an inner city school
in Newark, N.J. The school was very proud that day because it had just
opened a computer lab for the students. I had the privilege that day of
sitting next to a 9-year-old named John who had never accessed the
Internet before. So I showed him how to boot up the computer and get on
the Internet. We found a Web site about the life of Martin Luther King
Jr. and one about the FCC, and had a great time.

I asked John what he thought about the Internet. His whole face lit
up and he said, “This is great. It’s so fast. It’s more fun than books!”

Well, we certainly don’t want John to abandon books. But it
occurred to me, at that very instant, that John had summed up the
promise of this revolution. John described a revolution that is
fundamentally changing the way that people get and process information
in our society. And I left the school thinking that what John learned
that day had the potential to change the course of his life.

My hope is that four decades from now, [we can] look back on this
[time and] say [that we made] a difference too — whether [in front of]
the Supreme Court of the United States, or [in front of a computer]
just helping to change the life of one little child.

Excerpted from Commencement Address at Southampton College of Long Island University, May 17, 1998

WILLIAM E. KENNARD Chairman Federal Communications Commission

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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