Thursday, August 24, 2006

Ok. So it has been a good two or even three months since I've posted anything to this blog. And I've got lots and lots of issues I want to sound off about when I manage to find the time (the Kevin Barrett episode and the future of academic freedom, for one). For the time being, though, I just want to point out that a number of media policy battles that will have a profound impact on the future shape of the communication landscape have been heating up this August and, though the forces of democracy and the common good stand a decent chance of winning in each case, disaster is still not out of the question.

First of all, there is the on-going battle to insert some sort of protection for the principal of Internet "network neutrality" into the omnibus telecommunications legislation that has passed the House and is now under consideration in the Senate. As Mitchell Szczepanczyk and I detail in an op-ed we wrote for the Illinois Editorial Forum (that was published initially in La Raza), if the big telecomm companies (Comcast, ATT, etc.) get their way, they'll be allowed to grant preferential treatment to their own web-based services (streaming video, long distance telephony, etc.) and to those customers willing to pay for the privledge and will be more or less allowed to block or stifle their competitors.

Second, the same bill that is poised to destroy the Internet will also do immesurable damage to cable access TV (which is the one place on TV that most people can have a chance to see truly radical programming, like "Labor Beat" or the nationally syndicated "Democracy Now"). Essentially, it will reduse the funding base for cable access stations AND limit their future growth by fixing the number of channels set allocated for public access at its current (l980s, pre-digital) levels. Mitchell Szczepanczyk and I have written about this in yet another op-ed syndicated by the Illinois Editorial Forum; this one was published first in the Rock River Times.

Finally, the FCC has at long decided to revist its broadcast ownership rules for the first time since a groundswell of opposition forced it to back off of its proposed deregulation back in 2003. As Scott Sanders details in his July 24th post on the Chicago Media Action website:

Just a few hours ago, the 3-2 Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on broadcast ownership and broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership. At last, here is the required followup to the broadly rejected 2003 attempt under the agency's former chair Michael Powell (son of Colin) to eliminate virtually all remaining broadcast ownership rules. Those proposed rule changes were ultimately discarded by the courts and the Senate too. According to Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein's mostly dissenting response, we may be heading in the direction of another fiasco similar to the one in 2003...

The public has until Friday September 22nd to file comments with the FCC.

In any case, I strongly encourage everyone out there in the blogosphere to weigh in on each of these issues. The most important thing people can do about net neutrality and cable access at this point is contact their U.S. Senators and demand they take a stand in favor of a democratic media system by protecting current levels of funding for cable access TV and passing legislation that ensures a "neutral" internet free of corporate censorship and control. And in the case of media ownership regulations, it is vital not only to file comments with the FCC but to prepare for protests and other forms of popular pressure in the likely even that the Republican-dominated FCC once again ignores the public will.