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Public Knowledge wasn’t involved in the hellacious fight at the Federal Communications Commission over media ownership. Our friends in Free Press and Media Access Project, among other groups, put forth heroic efforts and spent uncounted hours at all times of the day and night to make sure that what would turn out to be a bad decision could be less bad than had they not made their presence felt.
While the dust is still flying, however, we do want to call attention to certain comments of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate and Commissioner Robert McDowell.
This from Martin: “We cannot ignore the fact that the media marketplace is considerably different than it was when the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule was put in place more than thirty years ago. Back then, cable was a nascent service, satellite television did not exist and there was no Internet.”
From Tate: “Throughout this process, I was struck by the ongoing, dramatic changes in how Americans use the media to receive news, information, and entertainment. Increases in broadband penetration have transformed the Internet into a viable platform for streaming full-length video programming, with more content moving online daily. And our mobile phones now provide us with stock quotes, email and news updates from sources locally and around the globe. With the multiplicity of sources now available at the click of a button, the historic concerns underlying the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban would seem to be alleviated. Many academics and professionals note that developments since the Commission last reviewed its rules show that the diminishment of mainstream media power over information flow is real. This will only continue as the Internet and other communications networks develop. The diminution in the power of old media enhances the need to permit exploration of the synergies of limited cross-ownership. The Commission must ensure that our rules do not unduly stifle efficient communications that are likely to preserve or increase the amount and quality of local news available to consumers via these outlets.”
From McDowell: “Mark Twain warned us over a century ago, ‘If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.’ Of course, Mr. Twain had no other media than newspapers at his fingertips to glean information, opinion and, more importantly, material for his witticisms. The 21st Century’s chaotic explosion of information from broadcast radio and television, cable TV, satellite radio and TV, the Internet and many other voices and outlets would have given Twain an ocean of material to use to skewer his targets with his satire. Without question, however, he would have had a blog; and I’m sure it would have been one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. If he were alive today, perhaps his cheerful disdain for newspapers would have led him and his readers to bypass the papers altogether. And that’s a point at the heart of today’s order: if consumers and content providers want to bypass the media technologies of yesteryear in favor of new media, they can. And they are. In fact, the evidence in the record tells us that if you are under 30, you are probably not reading a traditional newspaper or tuning in to your local broadcasters. You may never do so, at least not in the way the over-30 crowd does. It is precisely this type of paradigm shift that Congress and the courts have charged the Commission with weighing heavily as we revise our media ownership rules.”
We quote them at length because we want these words to be remembered as the chairman and the commissioners contemplate whether they want to allow a second wave of media consolidation to take place – on the Internet.
If these commissioners are sincere in their view that the Internet has come a long way in bringing a diversity of views and news that has since overtaken the old media, then we suggest that these three commissioners have a responsibility to take responsibility to make sure the Internet functions as it should – in the free, non-discriminatory and unencumbered environment it has until now.
The last thing this country needs after the FCC allows the traditional media to consolidate is for the Commission to let the telephone and cable companies exercise proprietary control over the Internet, whether stopping or restricting certain Internet applications (like BitTorrent) from being used or functioning as copyright cops for Hollywood, as AT&T wants to do.
That said, we look forward to the Commission acting on petitions to protect the Internet from those who would control it, and to the Commission coming up with rules to make sure that the promise that the majority saw yesterday will continue tomorrow.