Puzzled by the headline? So was I last month, when the Commission issued a public notice bearing the header “FCC TO RELEASE ASIAN LANGUAGE TRANSLATIONS OF NATIONAL BROADBAND PLAN SUMMARY AT LOS ANGELES FORUM FOR ASIAN AMERICAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER COMMUNITIES”. The particular “communities” for which translations have now been issued are “Chinese (Simplified), Samoan, Tagalog, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese”.

What puzzled me was not that the translations were being made available – that, after all, was consistent with the Commission’s full-court, no-holds-barred effort to “raise awareness of broadband”. 

No, what puzzled me was that the FCC’s public notice was issued only in English. 

Maybe I’m missing something, but if folks can’t understand English enough to read the National Broadband Plan in its original form, how are they going to understand an English language public notice alerting them to the availability of non-English versions? Wouldn’t it make more sense to issue the public notice in, say, Chinese (Simplified), or Samoan, or . . . well, you get the picture.

So as a public service, we here at CommLawBlog.com translated the FCC’s headline into Chinese (Simplified), and have used it for the headline on this post.  That at least should clue some members of the FCC’s target audience into the gist of the Commission’s public notice – assuming, that is, that they happen to be surfing the Internet and come across this post through a Google search. (All you English-reading surfers should feel free to pass the link along to appropriate friends and acquaintances.) 

And as a further public service, here are links to the various foreign language versions of the NBP:

简体中文翻译 (Chinese (Simplified))




ภาษาไทย การแปล (Thai)

Việt dịch thuật (Vietnamese)

(There’s also a Spanish-language version available at the NBP download site and a Braille version available for download from the FCC’s “accessibility” page.)

Now that we’ve done our share, how about somebody else coming up with Samoan, Tagalog, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese translations of the public notice’s headline, at least?

Something else puzzled me about the notice. How were these particular languages selected, and why were others not? According to the 2000 U.S. Census, of the main languages spoken by individuals older than five, French, German and Italian outrank Samoan, Thai and Korean. And yes, I understand (from a blog post by one of Chairman Genachowski’s Senior Advisors) that some Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations “have lower-than-average median household incomes (Korean Americans)” or have members who “live in rural areas (Hmong Americans)”, but the same could presumably be said of a number of non-AAPI populations speaking other languages. Ditto for the notion that many AAPI populations may be “linguistically isolated”.

I’m not saying that providing translations of the NBP is necessarily a bad idea. But once the government starts down that road, it doesn’t take long for the slope to get steep and slippery. By offering translations into some languages but not into others, the government is, after all, engaging in a form of discrimination. It may be viewed as benign discrimination, but the exercise clearly involves selecting one or more nationalities for a particular beneficial treatment which is not provided to other nationalities – in other words, discrimination based on, well, nationality. And that’s the kind of thing that the government should ordinarily try to avoid.

So here’s hoping that the AAPI language versions just released are only the start of the project. Perhaps versions in French, Italian, German, Russian, Polish, Arabic, Japanese, Hindi, Persian or Urdu (all languages which ranked higher than Samoan or Thai in the 2000 Census) will be issued in the near future. What about versions in the various Native American languages? Or any African languages?

And ideally, when all those are ready to roll out, the public notices announcing their release will not be exclusively in English.