Saturday, February 24, 2007

Columbus to host forum with FCC Commissioners, Copps, Adelstein and McDowell

While this may not appear to be a broadband issue on the surface, I believe there is a connection to be made between our efforts for universal affordable broadband and the Columbus FCC fact-finding hearing on media ownership to take place March 7th.

You may recall the tremendous public backlash in 2003 against proposed rules to weaken ownership limits. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein led the way by holding informal hearings around the country to get public input. Well, the FCC is at it again. On June 21, current FCC chairman Kevin Martin issued a draft proposal -- called a Further Notice of Proposed Rule Making, or FNPRM -- that kick-started the latest effort to permit further media consolidation.

The upcoming Columbus hearing will be significant because it will be the first hearing attended by a majority Commissioner, Robert McDowell. According to organizer Amanda Ballentyne
"having McDowell attend the hearing is a very big deal, as he is appears to be the possible swing vote on the issue of broadcast ownership at the FCC. There are 5 commissioners at the FCC, three republicans (the majority) and two democrats (Copps and Adelstein). Copps and Adelstein have been outspoken on these issues, pressing the FCC not to allow further consolidation. McDowell appears to be undecided. This forum will be an excellent opportunity to impress McDowell."
The broadband connection?

Some ask, "who needs public interest obligations for broadcasters when anyone can use the internet to get and publish information?" This audience knows very well that not "anyone" or everyone can do that.

An official FCC hearing was held in Harrisburg, PA yesterday. US Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin for inclusion in the record. His comments should sound familiar, and underscore the importance of diversity and meaningful public interest requirements for broadcast media:
Some media companies and associations have asserted that the internet’s potential ... is sufficient justification for the Commission to relax its media ownership rules. [Former] Chairman Michael Powell made the mistake of acting as if the internet was an independent source of national and local news- a mistake repudiated by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals when they remanded the Commission’s rules on this very point.

An open and free internet could be considered the first truly accessible tool to make the spirit of First Amendment come alive for everyone in the country. But without an internet available to all that guarantees fast speeds to anyone’s content, that potential is just a promise.

The reality of the Internet today for most Americans is not really comparable to its potential. The reality is that the FCC considers 200 kbps as broadband-a speed so inadequate that even video optimized for slower connections like that provided by YouTube requires 500kbps — 150% faster — to run in real-time. The reality is that broadband isn’t available — even at those low speeds — to tens of millions of Americans.

The reality is that only small percentages — 11% of respondents in a recent survey — use the internet as a frequent source of local news and information. The reality is that the websites of local TV stations and local newspapers account for about half of the sites these Internet users visit most frequently.

Until [the web] is as pervasive as broadcast media and newspapers — and until new websites truly compete with those traditional media outlets (and the web sites they control) — the web’s existence should not be used to justify media consolidation.

While bloggers and some websites cover local news extremely well, many are centered on opinion, food and theater reviews — or they simply aggregate links to websites of broadcasters or newspapers. The fact that most of these websites generate significant content reacting or responding to content produced by local broadcasters or newspapers underscores the internet’s importance as a complement and a supplement — not a competitor — to traditional media outlets.
The particular hearing in Columbus is considered an "unofficial" hearing, meaning it six not among the six designated by Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to address the specific proposed rulemaking. That fact gives the public more latitude in bringing issues before the commissioners.

Think the rulemaking eliminating local franchising stinks? Let them know. Think our measure of broadband access stinks? Tell them that too.

In my mind the most important statement to be made is that our communications infrastructure is too important to our democracy, economy and culture to have its rules written by the companies entrusted to occupy it.

Here is a promotional flier you can circulate. For more information, visit or contact Amanda Ballantyne,, 612-849-0195.

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