With Latino purchasing power rising quickly, so should representation in all aspects of television. That’s the contention of Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-Calif., 32nd District), who will receive the Walter Kaitz Foundation’s Diversity Advocate Award at the Kaitz dinner Sept. 13 in New York. She points out that Latino purchasing power should rise from $700 billion today to $1 trillion by 2010.
As it does, she wants to see minorities play a larger role in corporate America. Her desire to see television, from on-air to cable franchises, reflect the diversity of the country is one of the ways she has made her mark as a congresswoman. She’s from Los Angeles and serves as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where she was the first Latina appointed to the committee.
The Walter Kaitz Foundation gives the Diversity Advocate Award to a person outside the cable industry whose efforts have positively affected cable diversity, said Michelle Ray, program manager for Kaitz. “The award is given to an individual who is committed to diversity and whose leadership has directly fostered what we consider a more inclusive environment for our industry,” Ms. Ray said.
Ms. Solis fits that bill via the efforts she has championed on Capitol Hill. For instance, as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, she submitted two amendments to the COPE Act (Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement) of 2006 in June that would have required cable operators to build out to all households in a franchise and not just to a small number of communities or homes. The purpose was to eliminate “cherry picking,” a process by which cable operators can build and market new services to high-income areas but avoid low-income neighborhoods. The COPE Act passed, but the amendments she proposed were not included in it.
Still, she said, she will continue to search for ways to ensure that cable operators reflect the community. While Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic among online users, only one in eight Latino households has access to broadband services.
For some time Ms. Solis has been a proponent of non-discriminatory legislation for video franchising to ensure broadband services are available to all communities regardless of income level. Communities that are heavily populated by Latinos and African Americans are often overlooked when it comes to making new technology available because of socioeconomic factors, she said. “We don’t want people to be underserviced because they live in a lower-income area” she said.
The cable industry has made strides in providing mentoring and training programs for minorities and opportunities for minorities to own cable franchises, she said. Programming is also more diverse. “I would like to see more diversity in front of the camera but also, in terms of the cable industry, that we have CEOs, business owners and women, minorities, whether that be Latin, African American or Asian, and have role models appealing to our community,” she said. Latinas on television have often been either maids or prostitutes, she said. “I’d like to see Latina women showcased in professional capacities. It’s the most underrepresented segment in public service and corporate America.”
On the horizon, she wants to ensure that as the telecom and cable industries continue to consolidate, the larger companies that remain let all consumers access their services. “Our potential in the Latino community for being a part of the marketplace is so large and growing. … Continued access to all constituents as the industry undergoes massive changes is critical,” she said.
Ms. Solis was elected to Congress in 2000 and represents parts of the San Gabriel Valley and East Los Angeles. She is also a ranking member of the House subcommittee on the environment and hazardous materials, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and chair of both the Democratic Women’s Working Group and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Task Force on Health.