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.

 

The Wavelength: Original Reporting—What’s it Worth? Plus: Tracking the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

 

By Eric Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the New York Times debuted a long-awaited paywall, and stats blogger Nate Silver used the launch as an opportunity to explore the value of a news organization based on the amount of original reporting it produces. While Silver’s rankings could be a valuable tool for news organizations, Mother Jones‘ Nick Baumannfinds Silver’s methodology wanting.

“The results, as you might expect, made theTimes [paywall] look like a pretty good value,” Baumann writes. But the real problems are in how Silver ranks “original reporting”– namely that online citations don’t always identify the outlet, and that larger, established news organizations sometimes get credit for breaking stories when smaller orgs actually had the scoop first. That’s not to say that rankings like this don’t have incredible value for media, but that they need to be explored in a deeper manner. Baumann writes:

It’d be nice to see a foundation interested in journalism—the Knight Foundation, say, or Google.org—invest some time and money to expand and rework the rankings. It would be great to see media outlets competing to produce more and better original reporting.

Ultimately, Baumann believes rankings like this, if done right, could be a valuable barometer for measuring quality in journalism. Let’s hope someone takes up his call to arms.

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger still a very bad idea

Free Press’s Tim Karr weighs in on the mega-merger with five reasons why it’s not so great for consumers. According to Karr, “consolidation of the scale being proposed by AT&T resembles the old railroad and oil trusts of the 19th century.”

Karr also notes that the merger would erode competition, result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, eliminate perhaps tens of thousands of jobs, stifle innovation in the tech sector, and threaten free speech.

How will the merger affect POC users?

The disappearance of T-Mobile, whose low-cost plans offering unlimited data appealed to low-income wireless users, could have a huge impact on communities of color who rely on unrestricted text and web plans, especially those who don’t own computers.

At Colorlines.com, Jamilah King notes that “Mobile broadband is fast becoming the future of the Internet, and it’s already an important way in which communities of color are helping to close the digital divide. ” Blacks and Latinos, she says, are among the biggest users of mobile technology, “and in many cases, it’s the primary way that they surf the Web.”

If unlimited data plans end, and prices for wireless service rise for current T-Mobile users if and when a merger is completed, the digital divide separating under served communities from customers who can afford higher fees will almost certainly widen. This could have a devastating ripple effect on everything from people who use phones for business to people who use phones for social networking — and may affect African Americans, Latinos, and immigrant populations disproportionately.

Impact of merger on Net Neutrality

How will the potential mega merger affect Net Neutrality? Truthout’s Nadia Prupis recently interviewed Free Press political adviser Joel Kelsey, who says the FCC’s December decision not to regulate wireless carriers now seems shortsighted. “[The FCC’s] justification was that you’re less likely to see some of the same types of anti-competitive actions for fear that a carrier would lose a large number of customers … looking at it through the lens of this merger, I think that justification has kind of gone out the window.”

Did ISPs buy anti-Net Neutrality votes?

Speaking of Net Neutrality, Crunchgear had an eye-opening article outlining the amount of money donated by ISPs over the last four election cycles to the 15 members of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology who opposed Net Neutrality. The article’s findings perhaps aren’t that surprising, but are revelatory: “Looking at the 15 congressmen who voted against Net Neutrality, the top three ISPs gave their campaigns some $868,024 over the past four election cycles. You can interpret that as, well, they were able to knock down Net Neutrality for less than $1 million, which is pretty much a drop in the bucket for these companies.”

Oh, Canada – Why Can’t America Be More Like You?

The AT&T merger is dominating the media policy news cycle, but we shouldn’t let it distract us from an interesting ruling for media made by our neighbors to the north. As Yes! Magazine’s Dave Saldanareports, a Canadian law which prohibits broadcast news from knowingly spreading disinformation—an anti-lying law—was recently upheld by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Saldana writes: “With little fanfare, the CRTC last month scrapped a proposal to revoke or relax a rule on ‘prohibited programming content’ that includes ‘broadcasting false or misleading news.’ The CRTC withdrew the plan when a legislative committee determined that the rule does not run afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which like the U.S. Constitution, guarantees press freedoms.”

He goes on to raise the obvious question: If Canada can do this, why can’t the United States? After all, there have been cases where journalists have been pressured into knowingly inserting false statements into stories under orders from executives, in order to protect big business interests engaged in harmful practices.

Unfortunately, the media’s legal right to lie is protected by the First Amendment. But if Canada can ban false reporting without violating freedom of the press, why can’t we choose truth over truthiness?

New Study Details Women in Media Globally

Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lunt reports on a recently completed a study of women in news media covering more than 170,000 people in 500 companies across 60 countries. The study was produced by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF).

Lunt says the study shows that gender inequality in the media sphere has been institutionalized. The good news is that the gap appears to be closing, especially at the executive level, where women have more than doubled their presence in the past fifteen years. A 1995 study showed women 12% of the top management positions in 239 nations, yet the IWMF report shows women now hold 26% of the governing and 27% of the top management jobs.

Progress? Certainly. But there’s still a long way to go.

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 Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Romanoff Stands up for Net Neutrality, Slams Comcast v. FCC Decision

Wanted to make sure everyone saw Andrew Romanoff taking a strong stand on net neutrality and for consumers in the wake of the recent court decision in Comcast v. FCC. This is one of the many reasons we need Andrew Romanoff in the U.S. Senate. Click here to contribute to his campaign: https://donate.andrewromanoff.com/page/contribute

There's more...

Romanoff Stands up for Net Neutrality, Slams Comcast v. FCC Decision

Wanted to make sure everyone saw Andrew Romanoff taking a strong stand on net neutrality and for consumers in the wake of the recent court decision in Comcast v. FCC. This is one of the many reasons we need Andrew Romanoff in the U.S. Senate. Click here to contribute to his campaign: https://donate.andrewromanoff.com/page/contribute

There's more...

A.W.O.L on Comcast/NBC Merger: Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz, Matthews

 

--I heard the news today, oh boy, About a lucky man who made the grade...He blew his mind out in a car, He didn't notice that the lights had changed..-- (Sgt Pepper, The Beatles, 1967)

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 triggered a wave of media ownership consolidation.

You will, of course, remember the vigorous debate on that bill, recounted night-after-night on the major news programs, regaled even more on the "pundit" shows of the time, and consuming nearly all the air-time on the Sunday blabberfests? And , recall getting tired of 60 Minutes running this story week after week after week?

You don't remember?....well, not to worry, you are not suffering memory loss or suppressing a painful experience.

You do not remember it because the major networks and cable operators who stood to gain financially from this bad policy said virtually nothing about it. Their "independent" newsrooms reported next to nothing about it. There were no "round-tables" discussing its merits. I believe I recall ABC's Ted Koppel, who hosted Nightline that prided itself on covering stories in depth and without apology for ruffling feathers, being asked whether he supported the bill, and giving a rather lame "yes, it is valuable to my network" answer. If you knew about it at all, it was because you watched C-SPAN at some ungodly hour. [And, to be completely fair, Olbermann-Maddow-Schultz-Matthews were not on the air in 1996).

When it came to Citizens United--the recent decision by the Supreme Court that found the original intent of the Founders was to grant Constitutional personhood to corporations, creatures of the State--Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz and Matthews were intensely concerned about its implications. They covered the case, the aftermath, and periodically follow-up with reports of Congressional efforts to blunt its effects or overturn it by Constitutional Amendment.

Enter, Comcast/NBC Universal. Comcast is the nation's largest cable operator, and NBC Universal one of the major content creators. Comcast wants to purchase NBC Universal from General Electric. MSNBC and CNBC are part of NBC Universal and would become owned by Comcast.

Where is the coverage Rachel? Ed? Olbermann? Matthews? Where is the outrage over increased media concentration and corporate control? Where is the exposé of Comcast's past egregious actions? (For a chronicle of those, see, e.g., Josh Silver's article,"Senator Franken Rips Into Comcast CEO Brian Roberts", February 5, 2010).

Just to provide a taste--Comcast opposes Net Neutrality, and has already tried to violate it on its own. It lavishes money on Members of Congress, and packs FCC hearing rooms with paid "supporters". Brian Roberts lied to Senator Franken right in his office about the FCC protecting consumers against price increases while his lawyers argued it was unconstitutional.

So where are Olbermann, Maddow, Schultz and Matthews? How can they, as they all rightly have, extol the virtues of a Wendell Potter (former insurance executive who outed his industry during the healthcare reform debate), and yet sit idly without investigating and reporting the dire implications of Comcast owning NBC Universal?

The deafening silence from this quartet is all the testimony needed to show why this merger is...very bad news, indeed. . 

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