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Bernie Foster, publisher The Skanner News
Published: 14 March 2022

bernie foster mlk breakfast 2021 introBernie Foster, publisher The Skanner NewsHR 3816 and S 2992 – the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA) – bills have been voted out of committee and could be scheduled for a vote at any time. We want to take this time to weigh in with our readers on potential impacts to the Black Press and Black-owned small businesses.

There is no question that technology has become involved in our lives in ways no one could imagine twenty or thirty years ago. This explosion of technology growth and use has resulted in a lot of innovation and improvements and how we work and interact, but like most things in life, too much of a good thing ends up creating new problems and challenges. Congress was right in the early days of the Internet to maintain a light regulatory touch to allow this new industry to flourish, and flourish it has.

Now the industry has matured, and Congress has the right and responsibility again to update regulations to catch up with all the growth and better align with the realities of today's economy. However, this should be pursued with careful consideration of all the impacts – those intended as well as unintended – consequences and risks. As an aside, when The Skanner News Group decided to enter the radio market in 1985, it took eight years to commission, engineer and build the necessary equipment to meet stringent federal broadcasting specifications. It was an overly onerous process, but the fact is we learned a lot along the way which benefited the business. The notion that Congress can pass comprehensive regulatory reform in one piece of legislation after a couple of hearings is not prudent.

We know that COVID-19 impacted our community and businesses harder than others.

Technology actually helped us be more resilient – providing connections to family and friends, churches to congregations, ordering food, and doctor's appointments. 

We are staying current with the news and getting updates from our elected officials on social media platforms like Facebook Live. It is hard to imagine how our community will benefit should these free and low-cost services get eliminated or are forced to charge higher fees.

I share many fellow publishers' concerns that, despite best intentions, if this legislation is passed in its current form an unintended consequence will be to diminish Black voices and community platforms like ours which present a risk to our business. Oregon needs more minority-owned businesses, and technology can be an effective tool in overcoming many of the barriers that have created today's inequities. A good example of this is Google search with its integrated Maps function which helps Oregonians find and support Black-owned businesses. If anti-trust rules prevent this integration, businesses in our communities of color will be left more isolated.

We applaud the intent to create safer online environments, efforts to protect privacy, election Integrity and to spur healthier competition. These are all noble and worthy goals. However, trying to accomplish all these objectives and more while we are still fighting a pandemic and families are struggling to pay bills, is just too risky and too much to take on right now. There are legitimate issues that need to be addressed, perhaps none greater than preserving voting rights, the integrity of free and fair elections, and so-called democracy with the January 6, 2021, attempt to overthrow our government.

We look forward to working together with our elected officials in Congress but ask them to oppose HR 3816 and S 2992 as currently envisioned.

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