It's Time To Occupy The FCC!

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

What do we call a government agency created to manage telephony, internet, wireless, cable, and broadcasting in the public interest, but has been the captive of greedy corporations for decades? We call it the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission. What can we do when corrupt authorities like the FCC utterly forfeit their legitimacy, and just aren't listening? We can raise our voices. IWe can withdraw our consent. We can occupy their public space, which is really ours anyway.

It's Time To Occupy the FCC

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

You'd have to look long and hard to find a government agency more transparently devoted to serving greedy corporate interests at the public expense than the Federal Communications Commission. According to the Federal Communications Act of 1934, the FCC is supposed to regulate the broadcast airwaves, telephony, the internet and cable industries in the public interest. It's not even a bad joke. For decades, virtually every top level FCC staffer and commissioner has left the through the revolving door that leads straight to lucrative work for the broadcasters, Big Cable, or the telecoms.

Here's a look at the tiniest tip of the iceberg, the post-FCC careers of its past several chairs.




FCC Chairman

From

Who they work for now... and who the current one served before this

Julius Genachowski

2009 -present

A former AT&T lobbyist and Clinton White House counsel, helped write the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which gave the internet backbone, built with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to AT&T and other telecoms for pennies on the dollar.

Kevin Martin

2005-2009

Now works at Patton Boggs, a bipartisan DC lobbying firm that represents telecoms, broadcasters, the recording industry and Big Cable.

Michael Powell

2001-2005

First appointed to FCC by Clinton in 1997, Powell now heads theNational Cable & Broadcasters Association, the front group for Comcast and the rest of Big Cable

William E. Kennard

1997-2001

Currently US Ambassador to the European Union, where he insists that Europe privatize its internet backbone and municipal wifi services and let US cellular carriers in to saddle customers with US style multiyear contracts and penalties.

Reed Hundt

1993-1997

Works for management and private equity firms that represent or own cable companies, broadcasters, the recording industry and blocks of telecom stock.


 

The FCC is supposed to manage the broadcast frequencies in the public interest. But it grants the enormous, greedy corporations that own most radio and TV stations monopoly licenses to operate their highly profitable businesses upon the scarce publicly owned spectrum with absolutely no obligations to provide local news, local voices or meaningful public service.

When digital technology increased the number of possible broadcast stations severalfold, the FCC never considered offering those frequencies to new women and minority nonprofit broadcasters who would be eager to air the voices and provide the news and public service commercial broadcasters won't. Incredibly, the FCC gave the new station frequencies to the same old broadcasters, as if they owned them instead of the public! These old TV frequencies are excellent for penetrating walls, and could also be used to deliver municipal broadband to communities, eliminating the digital divide once and for all.

Instead, now that that licensees have no use for the frequencies the FCC has begun to permanently privatize them by auctioning them off to telecoms.

The FCC regulates the land line and cell phone industries as well, but not in the public interest. The US has some of the highest cell phone rates in the world, with multiyear contracts and penalties that are illegal in much of the world. In Europe, for example, cell phone customers looking for a better deal can change contracts and companies every month with no penalties or credit checks and keep their existing phones and numbers. The FCC never challenges the arbitrary and deceptive billing practices of phone and cable companies or bothers to educate the public on things like the fact that text message delivery, excluding the cost of billing, costs them absolutely nothing.

In recent years, the FCC has decided that regulating the cable industry was something it just didn't want to do, and that was that, leaving millions of us at the tender mercies of Big Cable. The FCC has stood aside and refused to challenge dozens of state laws like Pennsylvania's which ban cities and towns from constructing their own cable, broadband and wifi networks to compete with Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others whose preference for serving only premium customers is the origin of the digital divide.

Fast, cheap and ubiquitous broadband will be as key to community economic development, to people accessing education, medical care, government services and entrepreneurship in the 21st century as paved roads. But the FCC's preference for private profits over the public good has meant that in the US, where the internet was invented, internet speeds are slower and more expensive than in more than a dozen other countries, and that high speed internet is available to proportionately fewer here than in 12 to 20 other countries, depending on how this is measured.

The FCC has failed to protect network neutrality, the notion doctrine that would forbid Comcast, AT&T and “owners” of the internet from discriminating against or banning outright content, devices or software they don't like, or favoring some content with faster and more reliable service for a higher price, as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Boost Mobile and other carriers are already doing.

The FCC's commissioners, staff and advisors are ludicrously out of touch, and seem perfectly happy that way. So when the FCC gave short notice that two commissioners would visit Atlanta this week for three hours on a single day during the evening rush hour, allegedly “to assess the communications needs” of metro Atlanta, they were operating as they normally do. But we also hope they get something they normally don't, like a rude surprise.

We can't promise, but we hope, that local residents in Atlanta tomorrow make their voices heard when the FCC shows up, at GA Tech's auditorium, 250 14th St. NW from 5 to 8 PM.

We hope that local residents will demand that the broadcast frequency privatization auctions be halted.

We expect locals will demand that the frequencies be given to new nonprofit broadcasters --- many of them women and minorities who will undertake the missions of serving local communities, gathering and broadcasting local news, showcasing local artists and local voices. Metro Atlanta has five and a half million people, and a single community radio station. It should and can have a dozen fully funded community radio and TV stations.

We imagine that since the commercial broadcasters, according to the 1934 law, do have a public service obligation, hold their broadcast licenses as a public trust, and have made buckets of money for decades, that local residents will demand that all commercial broadcasters and cable operators be forced to pay the costs of the nonprofit community broadcasters.

We imagine that legislators, FCC commissioners, their judge and lobbyist buddies and bosses will all think these sensible and equitable demands are politically beyond the pale and “off the table.” So we can't ask their permission. They're not listening anyway. It's time for us to occupy that table, and demand what we really need ---- a media regime, a broadcast regime that serves the needs of the people. It's time for the people to withdraw their consent from rules that serve the fraction of one percent at the expense of the rest of us.

It's time to occupy the FCC.

Bruce A. Dixon is a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party and a partner in Campaign Foundations and YMD Partners LLC., living in Marietta GA. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.