During the past few years, progressives have finally figured it out. Corporate media is driving a right wing, pro corporate agenda: from the radio to cable TV to newspaper conglomerates to the well funded Washington think tanks, progressive messages and values are being eclipsed.
But there is a silver lining to this story. The last few years have delivered several media reform victories thanks to increased public participation, and a growing coalition of media reform organizations. The FCC’s proposed rules to let media get bigger were rolled back. Sinclair’s electioneering-as-news was stopped, FCC investigations were launched in response to payola pundit Armstrong Williams, and Congress recently passed a law (albeit for only one year) that forces disclosure of government-funded video news releases or “fake news.”
But these are the rear guard battles. More importantly, there are a host of technological innovations and policy fights that, if advanced strategically, will radically transform our media, and put progressives on the offense and off of our heels. High atop that list is “Community Internet”; wired and wireless nonprofit and municipal high speed broadband networks that would eliminate duopoly control of the high speed internet market now enjoyed by telecom and cable companies. The new technology would provide broadband for a fraction of the current and envisioned cost.
And here's why it matters. Not far in the future, all media content -— video, audio, voice, and text —- will come through broadband pipe. Telephone, cable, and cellular companies, scrambling to dominate that one-stop-service system, are now leveraging their assets and lobbying clout to gain maximum control over technologies, infrastructures, and the policymakers that will determine the regulatory regime of the future. These firms recognize that the technology that captures the market first will likely be locked in as the recognized "czar of communications" for future generations.
Unfortunately, the system that corporate America envisions selectively underserves poor and rural communities, prices many Americans out of the technology, and provides substandard services when compared with available alternatives. According to Pew, only 24% of American households currently have "high speed" access. We have dropped to 16th amongst countries worldwide for broadband penetration. This is largely because a handful of companies enjoy almost total control of the marketplace. They have no incentive to compete or drive innovation. Prices average $38 per month for DSL, and $41 for cable. Today, alternatives – including municipal and nonprofit models – already exist that provide better services for a fraction of this price — from 1/3rd to 1/10th current commercial rates.
Corporate sponsored legislation has blocked or hindered municipal broadband implementation in 14 states, and is being introduced across the country. But during the past year, the public has begun fighting back…. successfully. Recent call-in campaigns in Iowa and Florida have torpedoed hostile legislation, and our group, Free Press, recently launched a national portal for information and activism (www.freepress.net/communityinternet) that is driving thousands to take action on an issue that enjoys vast public support amongst liberal and conservative voters.
This is but one of the many fronts of the burgeoning media reform fight, which include fighting media consolidation, increasing and insulating funding for public broadcasting and other independent media, fighting for more diverse cable TV offerings and more low power FM licenses, to name a few. This blog will detail those fights, what’s at stake and how the public – not the major media conglomerates – is going to win. Stay tuned.