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FCC Commissioner on Net Neutrality, the Future of Media and More
Posted on Mar 19, 2007
Scheer: Now, this is a public issue, as you’ve just talked about. Free Press and people…. No one gets hurt by an open media, Republican and Democrat alike. So why was Michael Powell allowed to do this? Why did Congress allow him to do this, and will it really change with this [Democratic-controlled] Congress? Are they tied in to, maybe, campaign contributions from these big media companies? Is there any change except if it’s by groups like Free Press?
Adelstein: Well, I’m going to tell you what happened in 2004, which a lot of people forget, is that the Senate voted on a bipartisan basis to veto everything that the FCC had done, voted 55 to 40 under Republican control of the Senate, bipartisan vote, to reject it. That was the vestige of the old Newt Gingrich “contract on America” where he wanted to authorize a program for rolling back Clinton-era regulations. That procedure, in Congress, had never been used against deregulation. This is the first time that happened, and there was a huge vote against media consolidation. In the House, my understanding is there were the votes there, the majority would’ve voted along with the Senate, but the leadership, then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, made sure that this wouldn’t come up. But there’s no DeLay to delay anymore. Now there’s a different . . . wind of change has blown through the House, and I presume that if there was another attempt to overreach, that Congress could again vote to override whatever the FCC would do to permit further media consolidation. So it’s really an uphill battle, which is a complete turnaround from the earlier days, for those who are advocating further media consolidation. And it’s a bipartisan issue. I think if the thing came to a vote in the House, you would see a lot of Republicans joining almost all Democrats in voting to stop media consolidation. And that’s something I think that gives everybody on the commission here pause. We don’t want to go down that path again. It’s pretty embarrassing to have a vote here on the Commission and have it slapped down by the US Senate on a bipartisan basis only months later.
Scheer: Now, you’re saying they’re not tied, maybe, to these corporate giants. ‘Cause, you know, in other fields, campaign contributions are so large that it sways them. Do you think the public has made such an outcry that maybe congressmen are listening on this issue?
Adelstein: They seem to be. One of the few victories of the people over the powerful in this millennium, in the last several years, was the victory of the media democracy movement over the media giants. It’s a real, palpable victory. And it is surprising in a lot of ways because there is a lot money, there’s a lot of power. It’s not just money; it’s the ability to get on the media, which is the lifeblood of politicians. I mean, imagine the kind of bravery it took for all those members. Remember, not everybody was brave: you had 55 to 40, you still had 40 voting against it. But getting a bipartisan vote like that is a victory by any stretch. And in the House I think it would be even stronger if it came to a vote this time around.
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Adelstein: Well, it has so far. There’s nothing that’s more democratized the discourse in this country than the Internet. Most people still turn to broadcasting and newspapers when they want to find out things. When they go to the Internet they often go to their local newspaper dot com or their local TV station dot com. But they have other alternatives. They have the ability to communicate with themselves, as we were talking about earlier. People set up their own websites and they do their own reports. And those are all helpful news sources. The key is to make sure that we don’t allow what happened to media to happen to the Internet, that we don’t allow big gatekeepers and a handful then to dominate the flow of information. So we’ve made an effort, Commissioner Copps and I in particular here on the commission, to keep the Net neutral, to keep Internet freedom alive. And we were able to accomplish that, to a great measure, in the AT&T/Bell South merger, where we got the new AT&T, the largest wireless, broadband and wireline company in the country, to agree to significant network neutrality requirements that make sure that they don’t prioritize or degrade any content flowing across the Internet, particularly in the [so-called] last mile. So we’ve been able, again, to have a victory there, and I think we’ve proven that we can define that neutrality. And so far we haven’t seen any violation of that agreement, and I’m hopeful that we can keep the Internet free.
Harris: Speaking of gatekeepers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the potential or proposed XM-Sirius merger. Because what you have here, you talk about waves that are independent and free of the traditional form. But here you have this new satellite, these two new competing companies that provide, for about 12 to 15 million listeners, a diverse body of content…. When you talk about putting these two guys together, are you talking about consolidation just for another platform? Is this good for the public interest for these two companies to come together?
Adelstein: Well, that’s what we’re evaluating right now. The FCC has to find it’s in the public interest in order to approve it. So I have to be very careful about talking about it since I sort of sit as the judge and jury, to some extent, of that merger. All I can say is, I’m a huge fan of satellite radio. I think it does bring diversity of viewpoints and music and thought into the airwaves. It’s one of the great success stories of the FCC, permitting that. And it’s also, I think, provided a real alternative to terrestrial radio that’s made terrestrial radio, the regular radio broadcasters, more responsive and kind of kept their feet to the fire to make sure they’re delivering some interesting local programming so that they can fight against the ears ... and they can get heard, and people don’t flock to satellite radio. So we’ll see what the public interest benefits are as we’re analyzing it. We’ve just gotten the early filing so far and I haven’t reached any final conclusion yet.
Harris: Well, perhaps we can talk to you after that decision goes public. That would be great if you had the time and were willing.
Adelstein: I would love to. Absolutely.
Scheer: And I would also love to talk another time about Net neutrality because I know that’s a big issue, too. Not just media ownership, but keeping the Net free and safe.
Adelstein: That is one of the great issues of our time. If we can keep the Internet open, the way it always has been, it can be one of the greatest sources for democracy and for information flow. We’re seeing that already with user-created content, with things like YouTube. People can be their own news gatherers, their own producers…. It really is a wonderful fount for creativity and innovation. And as long as it’s open, it’s going to continue to be, and that’s our job here to make sure that it stays open.
Harris: Well, Jonathan, I gotta imagine you sometimes feel like a teacher in that your students or constituents never say “thank you.” But what you do at the FCC is of grave importance to Americans and to people that watch the news and watch media in general. So, keep up the good work, and keep fighting the good fight.
Adelstein: Well, that means a lot to me. Thanks so much for saying that. And I certainly will.
Harris: There you have it. Jonathan Adelstein, one of five FCC commissioners. Thank you for joining us. For Jonathan, for Josh Scheer, this is James Harris, and this is Truthdig.
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