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Congress Poised to Kill Community TV

A GOP-led effort on behalf of the telephone lobby (principally Verizon and AT&T), also backed by many Democrats, is about to toss in the dustbin the longstanding policy enabling cities or counties to negotiate a "franchise" agreement with companies that provide cable TV service.

[posted online on April 24, 2006]

Congress is about to strike a blow that would eliminate the last remaining
policy insuring local oversight of communications companies. A GOP-led
effort on behalf of the telephone lobby (principally Verizon and AT&T), also
backed by many Democrats, is about to toss in the dustbin the longstanding
policy enabling cities or counties to negotiate a "franchise" agreement with
companies that provide cable TV service. A key House committee is poised to
pass legislation that would strip away the rights of communities to have any
say in how phone and cable networks serve them in the digital era.

As Verizon and AT&T roll out their broadband Internet and video services,
they wish to remove any obstacle to securing lucrative revenues from signing
up customers from the wealthiest parts of the country. The phone giants
complain that current law requires them to negotiate with each town (as
cable TV currently does) to develop a unique deal that benefits the
community, and that giving local officials the authority to have an
oversight role is slowing down their business plans.

With the backing of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and in exchange for some
likely Tom DeLay-style quid pro quo that will give the GOP lots of "Baby
Bell" campaign cash, legislation is being rushed through Congress. Local
oversight is to be replaced by a "national franchise" that will permit the
most powerful communications giants in the Internet era--large cable and
phone companies--to operate without regard for local concerns. Under the
bill (co-sponsored by House Commerce Committee chair Joe Barton, a
Republican from Texas, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois) phone
companies could engage in a form of economic redlining, serving only the
most affluent parts of town; the current local franchise system prevents
such discrimination. Communities would not be able to enact any consumer
safeguards, such as privacy protection; the bill would permit our very
corrupt Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to set such protection

While the proposed legislation does require phone and cable companies to pay
annual fees to cities and also to provide public, educational and
governmental (PEG) access channels for local use, it freezes in time PEG
capacity--setting aside only a handful of public channels while placing
off-limits the enormous potential of broadband cable systems to serve the
public interest. Under the proposed national franchise plan, cable companies
would be able to opt out of their current agreements, leaving local
officials and residents powerless at the precise time when digital
communications services are playing an ever-growing role in our daily lives.

Broken Promises

Little has been written in the mainstream press about what the potential
loss of cable franchising will mean. More than thirty years ago in The
Nation, Ralph Lee Smith wrote the visionary "The Wired Nation." Even back
then, activists recognized cable TV's ability to serve as a "community
communications" system (they even used the word "broadband" back then).
Cable was supposed to be an alternative to mainstream commercial television.
There would be many local channels, addressing the needs of education, civic
participation, free speech and the arts. Cable systems and programming
channels would be owned and operated by people of color, potentially
ameliorating what was--and still is--a communications industry dominated by
white males and largely programmed to their interests. The cable lobby
adopted much of this rhetoric as companies vied to secure lucrative deals
with cities. We will be your "community medium," they declared, promising to
deliver PEG and an endless array of local services. But once these giants,
whose successors today include companies such as Time Warner and Comcast,
won the franchise, they used their political power--at City Hall and in
Washington, DC--to break most of their promises. The cable lobby assembled a
powerful political machine, including key Democratic leaders, and was able
to win national legislation in 1984 that largely freed them to operate as
national programming services.

But a generation of video activists and visionaries, along with pioneering
public-interest FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, had already helped usher
in the concept of public-access television. Public-access advocates fought
back then--as they are doing now--to preserve some form of cable's original
community vision. Today, more than 20,000 hours of new local programming are
produced each week by the approximately 3,000 PEG channels in the United
States, relying on a largely volunteer corps of 1.2 million access
producers. PEG is the only place where city councils, school boards and
programs on a dizzying array of subjects, many of them serious and creative,
routinely appear on television. Despite federal rules favoring cable
companies, local governments have retained their ability to negotiate
franchise renewal deals that have helped expanded PEG capacity to reflect
updates in technology, such as streaming video and other broadband

Franchises have required special networks to be built, connecting public
buildings with advanced communications services and assisting education and
public safety. All of this has been possible because local authorities had
the power of renewing the cable franchise deal every ten years or so (as
well as approving transfers of ownership as media giants were bought and

A Digital Gold Mine

But now that phone lines can deliver video and data along with voice,
Verizon and AT&T envision a digital gold mine, principally by selling
wealthy customers TV and movies on demand. It says a lot about their
"vision" for our media future that the high-powered fiber-optic lines they
are rolling out purportedly to give the public high-speed Internet service
(which is what they say to lawmakers) is really about selling us reruns.

The phone lobby has deployed a gaggle of lobbyists and industry-backed
groups as part of its campaign to eliminate local authority. They have used
a two-pronged approach, pressuring both state and federal lawmakers. Helping
to spearhead the phone lobby's efforts has been Freedom Works, run by former
GOP House majority leader Dick Armey. His group has worked with phone
lobbyists to pass state laws pre-empting local franchising in such states as
Texas, Kansas and Virginia. Telecom industry-backed front groups working for
either the phone or cable industry have sprouted up as fast as crabgrass as
special interest money is doled out to almost all comers. (See a recent
Common Cause report.)

But what the telephone lobby really wants is for Congress to pass a bill
this session that would end forever the local franchising concept. The
Barton-Rush bill (that's Bobby Rush, the former "activist" and Democrat who
represents Chicago) passed the House Telecommunications and Internet
Subcommittee by an overwhelming 27-to-4 majority. The only House
Telecommunications Subcommittee members who voted against the bill were
Representatives Ed Markey, John Dingell, Anna Eshoo and Mike Doyle. Everyone
else--including Democrats Eliot Engel, Al Wynn, Charles Gonzalez, Edolphus
Townes, Bart Stupak and Bobby Rush, voted for the giveaway bill. To their
credit, both Ed Markey and John Dingell tried to negotiate a deal with the
GOP that would have preserved much local authority. But Hastert, assuming
the DeLay role, urged Barton to move ahead and reject any compromise.

Democrats Cave

Lobbying over the future of cable and telephone policy has already been a
financial blessing to Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees have received more than
$3 million since 2003 from phone and cable companies, according to the
Center for Responsive Politics. And that's just the tip of the financial
largesse we can expect from grateful AT&T and Verizon. (The GOP and lots of
Democrats won't have to worry about their phone, cable or Internet bills for
a very long time.)

In the next few weeks, the Senate will take up broadband legislation as
well. Democratic Senators John Kerry and Jay Rockefeller have already
signaled their support for the plan. Whatever final bill emerges from
Congress will ultimately reflect the continuing efforts by the
communications industry to free itself from any real oversight and
requirements for public service. (There is a provision in the bill that
would permit cities to develop their own Wi-Fi networks--removing obstacles
the phone and cable industries have placed in their way via another
successful political campaign they have organized. But while it gives this
tiny opening to communities, ultimately the legislation will close off the
country's principal broadband communications system for the public interest.
There will also be an epic battle in the Senate to secure open Internet
safeguards in the bill, the so-called "network neutrality" issue.)

It's time for progressives to take a stand against the broadband banditry of
Congress and the cable-telecom cartel. Any Internet-era telecommunications
legislation should insure local control, provide low-income Americans with
residential Internet service, protect online privacy, and keep the Internet
open and free from the control of big cable and phone companies. Such
legislation should also help develop a noncommercial digital commons
designed to promote civil society (as opposed to the madcap commercialism
that will run rampant on the broadband networks). In that way, we can honor
the vision--and the political work--of activists in decades past who strove
for a democratically run "community communications" system.

homepage: homepage: http://www.pcmtv.org

Another likewise Article 24.Apr.2006 20:33

citizen x

Congress Is Giving Away the Internet,
and You Won't Like Who Gets It
By Art Brodsky
TPM Cafe

Saturday 22 April 2006

Congress is going to hand the operation of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. Democrats are helping. It's a shame.

Don't look now, but the House Commerce Committee next Wednesday is likely to vote to turn control of the Internet over to AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner and what's left of the telecommunications industry. It will be one of those stories the MSM writes about as "little noticed" because they haven't covered it.

On the surface, it may seem a stretch to think that those companies could control the great, wide, infinite Internet. After all, the incredible diversity of the Net allowed everything Web sites and services of all kinds to exist in perfect harmony. What's more, they were all delivered to your screen without any interference by the companies that carried the bits to and fro. Until recently, they had to. It was the law. The telephone companies, which carried all of the Web traffic until relatively recently, had to treat all of their calls alike without giving any Web site or service favored treatment over another.

The result was today's Internet, which developed as a result of billions of dollars of investments, from the largest Internet company that spent millions on software and networking, to the one person with a blog who spent a few hundred dollars on a laptop. The Internet grew into a universal public resource because the telephone and cable companies simply transported the bits.

Last fall, however, the Federal Communications Commission, backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, decided that the high-speed Internet services offered by the cable and telephone companies didn't fall under that law, the Communications Act. Out the window went the law that treated everyone equally. Now, with broadband, we are in a new game without rules.

Telephone and cable companies own 98% of the high-speed broadband networks the public uses to go online for reading news, shopping, listening to music, posting videos or any of the thousands of other uses developed for the Internet. But that isn't enough. They want to control what you read, see or hear online. The companies say that they will create premium lanes on the Internet for higher fees, and give preferential access to their own services and those who can afford extra charges. The rest of us will be left to use an inferior version of the Internet.

Admittedly, it hasn't become a problem yet. But to think it won't become one is to ignore 100 years of history of anti-competitive behavior by the phone companies. And it was a mere six weeks or so from the time the FCC issued its ill-fated decision to the time when Ed Whitacre, the CEO of (then-SBC) now AT&T issued his famous manifesto attacking Google and other Web sites for "using my pipes (for) free." They don't, by the way.

Here's the inside baseball: A couple of weeks ago, a courageous band of legislators tried to stop the madness in Subcommittee. Ed Markey, Rick Boucher, Anna Eshoo and Jay Inslee proposed some good language to protect the Internet. For their troubles, they just got four more votes, other than theirs. Just three Democrats, other than the sponsors, voted for it. Only one Republican voted for it. When we talk about special interest giveaways, this one will be at the top of the list. And we won't have only Republicans to blame.



Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts
Ranking Member

Eliot L. Engel, New York

Albert R. Wynn, Maryland

Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania

Charles A. Gonzalez, Texas

Jay Inslee, Washington

Rick Boucher, Virginia

Edolphus Towns, New York

Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey

Sherrod Brown, Ohio

Bart Gordon, Tennessee

Bobby L. Rush, Illinois

Anna G. Eshoo, California

Bart Stupak, Michigan

John D. Dingell, Michigan
(Ex Officio)


corporate source 25.Apr.2006 02:29


Kindly, 25.Apr.2006 08:38

more info. . . .

please, - is somebody making concrete plans. i know that i shold have read the whole original post, but does anyone know the details of this bill. Is it in the House and Senate both, or is it still in committee? If so, anyone from Oregon or vicinity involved.

. . . . then I could make a call or e-mail something out