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Irving, Larry Jr. 1955—

Larry Irving, Jr. 1955

Government official

Encouraged Investment in Cyberspace

Proposed Regulations to Protect Minorities

Determined to Ensure Access

Sources

Larry Irving is the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). He was appointed to the posts in 1993 by President Bill Clinton to help develop the countrys telecommunications policies. He is also an energetic promoter of online access and its entrepreneurial opportunities for minorities and women, a concern for which Newsweek magazine dubbed him the Nets conscience.

Irving has an almost palpable zeal for all things high-tech that extends beyond the confines of his job. He spends about 15 hours a week just randomly browsing the Internet, in addition to the four or five online hours he puts in daily for work. His enthusiasm for the possibilities this technology presents is unbridled: I mean, is this cool, or what? he asked in a USA Today profile.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Irving grew up in a working-class family with a love of learning that he nourished with trips to the public library. He was awarded a baccalaureate from Northwestern University in 1976 and went on to law school at Stanford University, where he was elected class president in 1979. That same year he earned his J.D. degree, and after graduation he became an associate at the Washington, DClaw firm of Hogan and Hartson. His political career, however, began in 1983 when he left the firm to join Congressman Mickey Lelands staff as legislative director and counsel.

In 1987 Irving became senior counsel to Congressman Edward Markey, a ranking member of the House Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee. During the four years he spent in this position, Irving played a major role in the passage of several key pieces of telecommunications legislation: the Childrens Television Act of 1990, the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990, and the Cable Television Consumer Protection Act of 1992. In 1993 he was tapped to fill the NTIA position he now holds, where he has become an ardent and optimistic proponent of online communications and the Internet. Regarding the Internet, he told USA Today: Its going to be where our children work, how our children are educated, how our children are provided health care. But it also will be how were educated, where a lot of us will work, and how a lot of us will get health care.... I dont care what your business is, a person who understands and uses technology is going to reap economic rewards.

Encouraged Investment in Cyberspace

His own enthusiasm notwithstanding, Irving points out that not everyone is being swept up in the information revolution. He is concerned that minorities are being left behind, and the statistics bear him out: In 1989 the Census Bureau reported that home computer use by

At a Glance

Born July 7, 1955, in Brooklyn, NY; married Leslie Wiley, 1987. Education; Northwestern University, B.A., 1976; Stanford University Law School, J.D., 1979.

Hogan and Hartson (law firm), Washington, DC, attorney, 1979-83; legislative director and counsel to Congressman Mickey Leland, 1983-87; staff chair of the House Fair Employment Practices Commission, 1985-87; senior counsel to the Subcommittee for Telecommunications and Finance of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, 1987-92; assistant secretary of commerce and director of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1993. Member of board of directors, House of Representatives child-care center.

Member: American Bar Association, National Conference of Black Lawyers, District of Columbia Bar Association, Stanford Law School board of visitors.

Addresses; Office U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 14th Street and Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20230.

African Americans was less than half that of whites, and black children used home computers two-and-a-half times less than their white counterparts. When it comes to the Information Superhighway, Irving told Emerge magazine, African Americans do not have to be road kill, but it is going to require a concerted effort. We either have to get on it or be left behind.

To this end, Irving has actively encouraged minority investment and participation in the telecommunications industry. In a 1994 issue of Emerge magazine he advised minority business owners that to become a player in telecommunications is going to take tens of millions of dollars. To raise the necessary funds, he suggested, minorities are going to have to consolidate with nonminorities. Fortunately, he pointed out in a Chicago Tribune article, the interactive nature of the field itself can serve as an integrator. He added: I dont know if it will. It will take a lot of people working hard. It only has possibilities if more African Americans and Latinos get involved.

In April of 1995 Irving and the Minority Telecommunications Development Program (MTDP), a branch of the NTIA, sponsored a conference on capital formation for minority telecommunications businesses. The meeting highlighted individual success stories, helped participants find financial help and federal assistance, and outlined the many entrepreneurial opportunities available in the field.

Proposed Regulations to Protect Minorities

Irving has worked hard to ensure that legislation like the landmark telecommunications bill passed in 1996, which lifted many of the restrictions on media ownership, does not shut out minorities and small businesses. He remains concerned that as regulations fall, television and radio station prices will jump, making it impossible for all but the wealthiest contenders to compete. Irving wants to make certain that the federal government does its part to encourage minority representation in telecommunications businesses. When we get to that new world, lets start regulating the new world, he suggested in the Boston Globe.

The prospect of regulated cyberspace as foreseen by Irving does not please everyone. Thomas Donlan, writing in Barrons magazine, complained that the government mandate for universal access Irving proposes is the equivalent of rent control in cyberspace. This concept, he says, led to the massive AT&T monopoly that existed until 1984 and actually delayed technological advances because implementing them would have raised user rates. Irving, Donlan stated, wants to extend that handicap into the 21st century.

Determined to Ensure Access

Despite criticism, Irving clearly believes that minorities must not leave the rapidly-developing field of telecommunications to others. Monopolization of the marketplace of ideas should concern each of us, he said in a Washington Post article. It is fair to say that if one person controls ... [many] media sources, that person will have a strong influence on how ... [a] community thinks. Irving elaborated in Emerge: We have to get the technologies deployed in minority communities, make sure our children are technologically literate, and seize the entrepreneurial opportunities.

While Irving is determined to secure minority representation on the information infrastructure and is optimistic about the future, he is also realistic. I dont believe every household in America is going to have online services available at home any time in the near future, he told USA Today. He believes that government can bridge the gap, however, by putting computers and leading-edge technology into schools and other public facilities. His department will spend $86 million in 1996 and 1997 to fund experimental programs that further this goal. This, to put it plainly, is Larry livings mission.

I just want every kid to have access to this stuff, he told USA Today. If the only thing I contribute in life is to make this kind of technology available in schools and libraries around this country, then Ive done a pretty good thing.

Sources

Barrons, January 31, 1994, p. 10.

Boston Globe, June 26, 1995, p. 1.

Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1995.

Emerge, Volume 6, no. 2, 1994, p. 60.

Newsweek, December 25, 1995/January 1, 1996, p. 44.

New York Beacon, Volume 2, number 63, 1995, p. 2.

New York Voice Inc/Harlem USA, August 24, 1994, p. 24.

USA Today, January 17, 1995, p. D3.

Wall Street Journal, February 16, 1993, p. B11.

Washington Post, June 24, 1995, p. H1.

Amy Strumolo

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