By Shel Horowitz, GreenAndProfitable.com
Michael Copps: There’s no larger question in the US right now than how do we get the media back?
We started out in 2002, 03, opposing Michael Powell’s plan to loosen media ownership rules. I said the people have a real interest in this, and thanks to FreePress and other groups, three million people contacted the FCC. We’ve conducted some good holding actions, but it’s time to win the battle.
The real question is, shouldn’t consumers be deciding where they want to go and what they want to do online, and that’s what Net Neutrality is about.
We’ve lost a lot of public interest territory over the years, and you don’t get that back an inch at a time.
How do we ensure that everyone has access to broadband? It’s the future of democracy. The facts are gone; the investigative journalism is gone. Thousands of journalists no longer walk the beat. How many facts are buried so deep that the few journalists left can’t find them? Let’s have the data. I have watched the evisceration of the public interest all of these years. I think it’s the most important issue facing the country. The resolution of all of those other issues rides on how they are depicted by the media—and if the facts are told to the American people so they can make a decision. You can’t get that from the starvation diet, the journalism lite that we get from the traditional newsrooms now.
We should bring back a licensing regimen where the public interest is actually included. Where the public interest controls. Where the localism, the news of our various communities, is actually covered. Where minorities are not caricatured but their real issues are covered. Where we can say, “if you’re not serving your community, we’ll take that license back and give it to someone who will.”
Citizen action can still work. Very few people hold outrageous amounts of power, and control what goes on in this country. But citizen action can still make a difference. Look at women’s rights, labor, minority rights, they all had uphill fight, but they all persevered. It never happens easily. We should rededicate and recommit ourselves, and we can make some real down payments on media democracy in the months ahead. And then we can get real progress in getting media that is of and by and for the people.
Mignon Clyburn (former South Carolina State Commissioner and activist)
You reaffirm to me how important it is to fight for parity when I put my head on the chopping block. Remember what people were doing 10 years ago while waiting for flights? Reading a book or staring at the ceiling? Now they’re playing a game with a friend in New Zealand, tweeting, texting, IMing. Count the number of wireless activities next time. I hear about the fast approaching mobile TV and mobile broadband. Wireless availability and ease of use is no longer a fun novelty. It’s an essential part of everyday routines. An overwhelming majority would say they couldn’t live without their cell phones. This is especially true in lower income communities. It may be far more economical to communicate in short text messages than taking up too many voice minutes. Wireless is becoming the choice for students, under 30, families with small discretionary incomes. They are relying on them to find bus arrival times and weather forecasts, and to mange smoother ways of living. But this ease that many of us take for granted is at risk, for others.
1 in 4 households rely solely on wireless. They’re cutting costs and cutting the cord. Data apps on wireless are far more common in Afro-American and Latino communities, and they take advantage of a much wider array of the data than their white counterparts.
And we must be mindful of the effects of this on the ecosystem. If the costs become prohibitive, we have failed.
Small businesses pay significantly more per user (than big) for wireless.
I am an unlikely candidate for this job. A non-lawyer from a small, poor, “interesting” state. But I am a person who saw the disconnects, the inequities from the day she was born that minimize the potential in her communities. I know that these technologies, the potential for unlocking the spirit and the hope and desires and the excellence in all of us—we have that potential as commissioners, and you have the potential to not let us get away with anything less than our best.
Response to government shutdown:
Copps: we’re wasting all this time on the high noon shootout when there are all these bigger issues.
Clyburn: A lessons we learned in our household that we can disagree without being disagreeable. We don’t see that in our public spaces and places, and because of that, we’re unable and unwilling to compromise.
Oversight of broadband
Clyburn: We are to ensure a robust telecommunications industry. People expect that when they sign up for a service, that they can access information. We established high-level rules to do just that. They’re not onerous rules. I am comfortable with that direction. At the end of the day, we talk about this consolidation. The majority of Americans have two or fewer Internet providers, and that does not stimulate competition. I’m a substitute for competition.
Copps: Internet users should be very worried, because the Net Neutrality we passed is a partial measure. It does not include wireless telecom and there’s the potential for companies to do mischief. Long-term, we should be more worried. Every new telecom technology starts out as the dawn of an era of openness and freedom, but control gets tighter and tighter. That’s the danger to the future of the Internet, probably the most liberating technology since the printing press, and it’s going down the same road as the rest. We’re talking about keeping this technology free, and not letting a few telecoms put up a toll booth. Of course we have authority to do this. The telecoms convinced previous FCCs to call it information services (not regulatable).
State regulators vs. municipal
Clyburn: There are significant donut holes in this nation. 95% has high-speed access, but that means 14-24 MILLION have no broadband access available. The companies say the economic case can’t be made. So cities and towns should have the flexibility to wire those communities.
Copps: We have a spectrum shortage, we need more for wireless. But that should not translate into taking it from broadcast. We have a democracy crisis in large pat due to the state of our media. Let’s look at how broadcasters are using the people’s spectrum. There’s room for both wireless and broadcast.
What would it take for ATT/TMobile merger to be in the public interest?
Copps: A hell of a lot more than I’ve seen before. We have to say, what about competition? What they’re looking for is deregulated monopoly and I hope that’s not the course of American history.
Clyburn: I look at broadband access as a human rights issue. This is the last opportunity—the TV airwaves are unaffordable and almost unreachable. Those traditional platforms are too expensive. If we let this go, what do we have left? It is the pathway forward.
Copps: I think you can justify access to broadband as a civil right very easily. You’re not going to be a young person who can’t get a job because you can’t apply online. You can’t monitor your kids’ learning, your health. We’re 15th or 20th in the world, and that means all these kids are growing up without that opportunity. You think we’ve got outsourcing now…
We used to have 14 guidelines. I don’t think we need to have that many, but you need an honest-to-god licensing system. I’d have the renewals every three years, and you make a judgment about whether the station is serving the public. And if not, you put them on probation for a year or two, and if not, plenty of other people would like to have access to bandwidth.
Copps: Diversity is one of our mandates, but station ownership doesn’t reflect that diversity. We’ve had a committee that has proposed 70-75 measures we could take. I’ve proposed that we take one of them up each month.
Clyburn: We have to make space for viewpoints we disagree with. But if we diversify, people have more venues to get their voices across. They get drowned out and we cannot be satisfied with that. We have to push this agency and our lawmakers to be creative thinkers. And the advertisers will follow, and the voices we have problems with become less popular. Speak with your clickers and those voices will be gone.
Copps: I’d like to see the FCC require full disclosure on political advertisements. You hear, “brought to you by Citizens for Spacious Skies and Amber Waves of Grain,” and you don’t know it’s a chemical company.
The FCC is one of many agencies with a revolving door. We should say, for x number of years [former regulators can't work as industry lobbyists]. It’s the crushing influence of money in Washington.
Clyburn: Reaffirmations that public-private partnerships are the way to go. I am not satisfied about our diversity initiatives. I don’t hear enough southern accents. [race, gender]. The revolving door works both ways. I’m the beneficiary of the expertise of my staffer on mergers, from the outside.