Black Churches Uniting for Digital Equity
with Robert E. Branson Esq. of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pipelines to the internet became lifelines for people managing remote work and learning — and gaps to connectivity remain.
Robert E. Branson Esq., President and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss a new campaign launched by Black churches that aims to bridge the digital divide.
Jan 30, 2022
Anderson: During segregation, African Americans were limited in where they could congregate, celebrate, or even carry out business, and churches became safe havens for the hopes and dreams of the Black community. During the civil rights movement, they were the site of organizing meetings and rallies, and today churches are taking on a new role in helping their congregations and those around them. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Shortly before his passing, Congressman John Lewis said that "access to the Internet is the civil rights issue of the 21st century." The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the problem in an unprecedented way, disproportionately impacting communities of color across the country. And as our locked-down society went virtual, pipelines to the Internet became lifelines for people managing remote work and learning. But many were left behind, and joining me to talk about a new campaign aimed at bridging the digital divide is Robert E. Branson, Esq. He is the president and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council. And, Robert, thanks so much for being here.
Branson: Thank you for inviting me.
Anderson: So, we talk about broadband access and technology, and we know that all of that became more crucial than ever, obviously, because of the pandemic. But there's always been this digital divide, right? I mean, how serious of a problem is that, in your mind?
Branson: It's a very serious problem, and it was exacerbated by the pandemic, as we saw, as more people had to work from home, more kids had to study from home, and we discovered that many of these people did not have adequate broadband or affordable broadband. And that's when MMTC decided to get more involved in this area.
Anderson: So, and it's my understanding that your work was hand-in-hand with the FCC when they announced the Broadband Benefit program as a sort of stopgap to this. How did that work?
Branson: Well, one initiative we had last year was a program called Black Churches for Broadband. And what we did was we went to major church leaders throughout the country and urged them to talk to their congregations and to talk to the other leaders to let people know that the emergency broadband program that the FCC had was real. In other words, if people apply, they could get a subsidy for broadband service. And they also get a subsidy for equipment, which is very critical. We also -- We also ask them to encourage their members to fight to have a more permanent solution rather than just an emergency broadband solution.
Anderson: And so, that more permanent solution led you to this campaign and Black churches sort of picking up the baton of making sure that people have access. What is this new campaign? Explain how it works.
Branson: The new campaign is called Black Churches for Digital Equity, and it's designed to help these communities get the dollars which will be available for them to have broadband built out in their communities, to have affordable broadband, and to educate the people how to use much of the Internet services that are out there. We went to church leaders because, let's be honest, in the Black community they are, they are very, very critical to communicating and educating our people.
Anderson: You're absolutely right. And of course, the Black church has historically been at the forefront of many movements that touched civil rights, that touched equity issues. So, how important do you think it is that the church is involved in closing the digital divide and really leading on this when it comes to people of color? And how effective has it been so far?
Branson: Been very effective. The Black churches last year sent numerous letters to Capitol Hill, to Congress to alert them to the fact that we needed a permanent solution. They sent letters to Vice President Harris, encouraging her to take a lead on this. And we were able to get a new program which provides a subsidy both for connectivity and also for equipment. I think, though, the next phase is being able to identify where -- which communities need more broadband and where the community dollars will go. I mean, there's a lot of funds out there available. And I think the Black churches will be able to help steer that money into their communities so that the people that they care about and the people we care about will have access to the latest technology, which is what we really want. We want -- We want the Black community to have the same technology.
Anderson: Access is such an important word when we talk about the digital divide, right? Because it doesn't just exist in homes -- it's also in the workplace. Talk a little bit about the work that your organization is doing to address the lack of diversity, the lack of leadership in the tech industry as a whole. And why is that work so important, especially for the future?
Branson: Well, it's really important in the sense that we want to make sure that when decisions are made at major corporations that there is some consideration of diversity and that they they look at making sure that the diverse communities get the same technology that other technologies use. You know, we also work very hard to make sure that in the corporate boardrooms and in the corporate C-suite, that minorities are a part of the decision-making process. Because if we do that, then those people hopefully will look out for the community. That -- at least, that's the goal. And so we have aligned with many of the major corporations, working with them, working with our government partners to try to close this digital divide.
Anderson: It's an important goal. And, Robert, I know that people are going to want to know a lot more about the work that your organization does. So, where should they look? What's the website?
Branson: Thank you very much for that. We have a lot of information that people can get on that website if they are willing to go to www.MMTConline.org.
Anderson: Robert Branson, Esq. of the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council, thank you so much for taking the time to be here.
Branson: Appreciate it. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. Thank you.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, just log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.