The Wavelength: The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

 

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up.  On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

Genachowski comes to Oakland

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.

At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.

FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’

The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”

Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.

Truthout’s Susie Cagle has an illustrated recap of NCMR here, and an archive of GRITtv’s segments from the conference is available here.

House Disapproves of Net Neutrality

In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.

But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”

Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.

Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’

As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”

Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”

Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.

“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”

Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.

Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”

Another concern: the “arcane”, “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.

Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance…  expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.

Google Under Federal Scrutiny—Again

Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.

As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”

The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The DiasporaThis is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

 

Campaign Cash: Tea Party Vows to Block Campaign Finance Reform

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Welcome to the final edition of Campaign Cash, which tracked political spending during this year’s midterm elections. Stay tuned for more reporting on money in politics from members of The Media Consortium. To see more stories on campaign funding, follow the Twitter hashtag #campaigncash.

Anonymous millionaires just helped elect dozens of ultraconservative congressional candidates, by pumping millions of dollars into national Tea Party organizations. And guess what’s at the top of the legislative to-do list for those same Tea Party groups? Blocking campaign finance reform legislation.

As Stephanie Mencimer explains for Mother Jones, one of the nation’s largest Tea Party organizations, the Tea Party Patriots, is already coming out guns-a-blazing against any lame duck effort to crack down on secret corporate spending in elections.

And with good cause. The Tea Party’s appeal, after all, is based on its populist, grassroots image. If anybody knew that secret right-wing millionaires were bankrolling the entire operation, the “movement” would lose its luster.

But whether reformers are able to force front-groups to disclose their donors or not, the broader effort to eliminate undue corporate influence from the political process will take years.

Welcome to the plutocracy

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission allowed corporations and deep-pocketed elites to spend unlimited amounts electing politicians of their choosing. So long as those expenditures are funneled through a front-group, nobody has to know who is buying an ugly attack ad or why. Instead ads are sponsored by groups with a innocuous-sounding names like “Americans for Prosperity” or “Americans for Job Security.” Nobody knows who ultimately foots the bill.

In organized crime, this process is called “money laundering.” And everyone is getting in on the game, from the Tea Party to Karl Rove to U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As Bill Moyers explains in this Boston University lecture carried by Truthout, it’s ravaging American democracy.

Rove, other conservative groups and the Chamber of Commerce have in fact created a “shadow party” … We have reached what … former Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls “the perfect storm that threatens American democracy: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top; a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy; and a public becoming increasingly angry and cynical about a government that’s raising its taxes, reducing its services, and unable to get it back to work. We’re losing our democracy to a different system. It’s called plutocracy.”

That, ultimately, is what is at stake with campaign finance reform. Can democracy continue to serve as a check on elite power? Or will America simply dance to the tune played by the super-rich. Citizens United made an undemocratic mess of this year’s election—but the influence of corporate cash is not going to simply melt away. Without serious reforms, the very concept of American elections will become a quaint, naive relic of the past.

Wall Street wins big

And while the plutocracy plainly organized itself against Democrats in this election, democrats have not exactly been strangers to corporate largesse. As Laura Flanders emphasizes for GRITtv, while President Barack Obama occasionally offered rhetorical rebukes against the Wall Street establishment, so far as public policy was concerned, he rarely did anything to ruffle their feathers. Obama continued the Bush bailouts, praised the executives of firms would eventually be investigated for fraud as “savvy,” and aimed pretty low on financial reform. But as Flanders notes, all those favors didn’t end up helping either Obama or his party on Nov. 2:

Having soaked up the government’s largesse, those banksters repaid Obama by pouring millions of anonymous dollars into defeating Democrats.

It worked. The most vocal Wall Street critics in the House and Senate—Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) were bombarded with attack ads courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Now they’re gone, along with the Democratic majority in the House.

Last-ditch effort on campaign finance reform

As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent, Congress can still limit the damage in the coming months before the officials elected last night take office. A modest law that would require corporations to disclose their political expenditures and force front-groups to publicly identify their donors would help limit the damage.

After that, as Moyers emphasizes, it’s a long, hard fight.

But wait! There’s more.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Campaign Cash: Why Conservative Attack Ads Won’t Stop After Election Day

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Today is the first election in American history in which corporations have been allowed to spend their own money to buy political favors. This legalized corruption comes courtesy of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which injected massive amounts of corporate cash and unprecedented levels of secrecy into American politics.

And all of this crazy corporate spending will not be restricted to elections. That’s right. As Jesse Zwick reports for The Washington Independent, two front-groups founded by GOP strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie plan to keep running ads attacking Democrats well after the elections are over.

As Zwick emphasizes, this is actually a way to help keep one of the organizations, known as American Crossroads GPS from breaking the law. Many groups that spend money on elections register as 501(c)(4) organizations, which must devote no more than half of their activity to political operations. In return for limiting their political activity—advocacy or condemnation of specific candidates—they don’t have to disclose who their donors are. So groups like American Crossroads GPS plan to run “issue ads” focusing on the budget deficit and immigration reform this fall to balance out the ads directed at specific candidates that they’ve already run.

Under the Citizens United ruling, so long as corporations or wealthy elites launder their political expenditures through a front-group, they can give as much as they want without ever being held publicly accountable. But the high court’s decision also allows these front-groups to keep their actual expenditures secret as well. It’s not just that we don’t know who is funding them—in many cases, we also don’t really know what they’re funding.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s foreign dues

The secrecy surrounding anonymous donors may very well extend to foreign corporations. As Harry Hanbury emphasizes in this video for GRITtv, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a lobbying front-group for the largest American corporations—is facing heavy scrutiny over is foreign contributions. Nearly $900,000 in annual dues to the Chamber come from foreign firms, and the Chamber aggressively courts foreign donors who might benefit from weak U.S. laws—particularly environmental laws. The Chamber insists that it’s playing by the rules, but Hanbury catches them lying twice about the nature of the group’s foreign funding.

California’s environmental laws for sale

Corporations aren’t just targeting federal elections to influence public policy. As Tara Lohan explains for AlterNet, big oil companies have financed a campaign to repeal California’s carbon emission reduction law. Two major polluters—Valero and Tesoro—have spent a combined $7 million boosting the repeal, while Koch Industries—a major Tea Party funder—has kicked in about $1 million as well. A full 70 percent of the $10.7 million that has been spent to bolster the anti-environment ballot initiative has come from out-of-state sources.

Even the Tea Party’s worried

When the Tea Party Patriots received an anonymous $1 million donation for get-out-the-vote efforts, left-wing bloggers weren’t the only people upset about it. As Stephanie Mencimer reports for Mother Jones, some of the Tea Party Patriots’ own members were nervous: Who was funding this operation, and where was the money going?

We’ll probably never know, because the Tea Party Patriots aren’t legally obligated report their donors or expenses. The group has only disclosed $15,000 worth of expenditures of the $1 million donation, $10,000 of which was re-granted to another organization run by the father of Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler. The remainder is anybody’s guess.

But wait, there’s more!

  • Writing for In These Times, Sam Ross-Brown highlights a potential legislative solution to some of these campaign finance shenanigans. The Fair Elections Now Act would limit individual campaign contributions to $100, and match them by a factor of four-to-one, increasing the spending power of ordinary citizens and helping to level the distorted playing field created by Citizens United.
  • Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones details who got hit the hardest this election season in the final push leading up to Election Day: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) got some of the biggest expenditures. This year also smashed previous campaign expenditures, coming in at $443 million.
  • Suzy Khimm reports on voter intimidation tactics for Mother Jones from a McDonald’s fast food franchise  in Ohio’s 16th district. Employees were told to vote for Republicans or their wages would go down. McDonald’s may have been emboldened by Citizens United even though such tactics are still clearly illegal.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Campaign Cash: The Tea Party Jets to Grassroots Rallies, Wall Street-Style

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Two Tea Party leaders, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, have been jet-setting all over the country ginning up support for conservative politicians. Literally.

They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.

No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.

It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.

 

Social groups target state races

And while secret political spending has been dominated by big corporations this cycle, the legal maneuvering that liberated corporate coffers was actually performed by fringe right-wing groups targeting social issues. As Jesse Zwick emphasizes for The Washington Independent:

Groups advocating against abortion and gay marriage have waged a low-grade war on laws restricting their ability to spend money freely in elections since the early 1980s, and their victory in the recent Citizens United ruling has hardly caused them to rest on their laurels.

Our democracy is now more beholden to corporate greed than ever, but at least gays won’t be allowed to visit each other in the hospital.

This is just the beginning of corporate rights

But the implications of Citizens United extend far beyond the (critically important) realm of campaign finance itself, as Jeff Clements and John Bonifaz of the organization Free Speech for People emphasize in an interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales of Democracy Now! As Bonifaz notes:

 

Citizens United was not just a campaign finance case, it was a corporate rights case. In fact, it was an extreme extension of a corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment for thirty years.

At its core, Citizens United grants First Amendment rights to corporations on the grounds that corporations are people, just like ordinary citizens. Sound crazy? It is.

The bill of rights for corporations?

As AlterNet’s Joshua Holland emphasizes in an interview with historian Thom Hartmann, the implications of the view that corporations are people are simply absurd. Now corporations have been granted First Amendment rights, but what happens when they start arguing for Second Amendment rights? And what would it even mean for a corporation to have Second Amendment rights?

A visual map of Campaign Cash

What are the most common themes and issues surrounding the untold amounts of cash flowing into this election cycle? To create that visual, the Media Consortium piped 10 articles by our members through Wordle. While all the articles were generally focused on this topic, they were picked at random and published between October 25-29.

For clarity’s sake, we made “Tea Party” “TeaParty,” “Supreme Court” became “SupremeCourt,” and we also merged the first and last names of key players such as Karl Rove and Jim DeMint. Finally, we removed any extraneous words such as “the,” “and,” and “even.” We did not combine the words corporate/corporation/corporations or Republican/Republicans (but examine the frequency as much as the size). To get the latest reporting on the funds feeding into the mid-term elections, go to www.themediaconsortium.org or follow the search term #campaigncash on Twitter. Wordle research by Amanda Anderson.

But wait, there’s more!

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the mid-term elections and campaign financing by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit The Media Consortium for more articles on these issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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