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FCC Commissioner on Net Neutrality, the Future of Media and More

Posted on Mar 19, 2007
Jonathan Adelstein

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein

(Page 2)

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.

Scheer: The way I figured it, back in the day—now, I haven’t studied up on the issue recently, but you guys do not control the Internet.  Do you think the Internet, because of that, is going to allow for more freedom than even broadcast cable will ever allow?

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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By Joy Cassell, March 28, 2007 at 10:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The internet is the greatest equalizer.  Not only do we need corporations to keep their hands off but the government. 
Well intended legislation to open internet access to lower income kids are well meaning but this is the back door though with corporate America can get in.

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By vanjejo, March 27, 2007 at 3:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

two quotes explain it all….
I have been watching one of the largest media outlets posting areas *the"eye”* 
If posters context doesn’t “appeal” to the corporation, they just eliminate the option to post - many times individual posters comments are eliminated and select comments are left.
On AOL, posters found themselves being eliminated by false “community violations” - thus keeping them off the boards. Community leaders were given technology to garble script and censor randomly.  As long as we - the consumer - rely on a handful of “preferred” or picked media outlets, we will continue to fall more towards fascism than democracy….

‘We are grateful to The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion for almost forty years. It would have been impossible for us to develop our plan for the world if we had been subject to the bright lights of publicity during those years. But, the work is now much more sophisticated and prepared to march towards a world government. The supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and world bankers is surely preferable to the national auto—determination practiced in past centuries.’
—David Rockefeller, founder of the Trilateral Commission, in an address to a meeting of The Trilateral Commission, in June, 1991.”

‘In March, 1915, the J.P. Morgan interests, the steel, shipbuilding, and powder interest, and their subsidiary organizations, got together 12 men high up in the newspaper world and employed them to select the most influential newspapers in the United States and sufficient number of them to control generally the policy of the daily press….They found it was only necessary to purchase the control of 25 of the greatest papers.’ ” ‘The world can therefore seize the opportunity [Persian Gulf crisis] to fulfill the long—held promise of a New World Order where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind.’
—George Herbert Walker Bush”

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By Ernest Canning, March 23, 2007 at 7:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Re Julia Gifford Comment #59850.  Based on nothing more than Commissioner Adelstein’s last name, Ms. Gifford launches into an anti-Semitic rant about “the hidden hand of a Jew manipulating laws to advance the interests of Jews over everybody else.”

There is not one word in Mr. Scheer’s interview of Commissioner Adelstein that hints that Mr. Adelstein is a member of AIPAC; that he supports Israel’s illegal occupation of Palistinian lands, or that Commissioner Adelstein takes exception to President Carter’s astute analysis in “Peace, not Apartheid.”

While I suppose, especially in a piece about free speech, Truthdig provides a good deal of leeway in publishing the commentary of its readers, I would respectfully suggest that where a reader’s commentary amounts to “hate-speech,” it would be appropriate for the editors of Truthdig to simultaneously denounce such commentary whenever it appears.

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By Julia Glifford, March 22, 2007 at 1:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sorry - don’t every trust someone named Adelstein to advance freedom of speech.

Oh, I’m sure he thinks its dandy to speak ill of Arabs and Muslims. But you can be certain that behind all this talk of Net Neutrality, is the hidden hand of a Jew manipulating laws to advance the interests of Jews over every body else.

Speak ill of Israel- go to jail.

Just like they’ve done in Europe.

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By sanford sklansky, March 21, 2007 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great interview,but I wish they would have asked about the ridiculous fines for language.  I listening to an interview with Ken Burns.  He has a new documentary coming out in September.  The word fuck gets used a few times.  Some PBS stations are worried about getting fined.

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By EDMUND J ROACHE, March 21, 2007 at 3:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder how long it will take the big boys to put the pressure on to get commissioners more to their liking. Isn’t this the way it always works. One can only wonder why it hasn’t any sooner when all of our other government overseers have already been corrupted. Can anyone name anyone else in government that has power and is acting in the public interest. I can’t.

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By howellnews, March 21, 2007 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If the government owned and/or controlled as much of our media as do the corporations, the conservatives would be in a tizzy. It makes little difference that most of our media is monopolized by a handful of private, for-profit companies or by a handful of political appointees—both operate in their own interests instead of that of the common people. The biggest myth perpetrated by the right wing is that the media are “liberal.” What a joke. Go to Britain and read competing newspapers and a genuinely public broadcaster (BBC) to discover what the marketplace of ideas really looks like.

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By Jeanne, March 20, 2007 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jonathan Adelstein is an American hero. He and Michael Copp have done more for freedom of the press than anyone else. They will not give up the fight. And they encourage others to join the fight.

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By WCG, March 20, 2007 at 2:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Aren’t most broadcast licenses owned by corporations, not by private individuals? If so, when he says minorities and women own only 3 and 5 percent, respectively, of TV broadcast licenses, does he mean only of those owned by individuals? If not, this isn’t a valid statistic. A corporation is not male OR white, though it’s probably controlled by white males. But it’s owned by the shareholders, who are probably of both sexes and all races. There’s certainly reason for concern with media consolidation among a few giant corporations, but it doesn’t do us any good to use misleading statistics. (Note that I’m not claiming it IS misleading, necessarily, since I don’t know WHO owns broadcast licenses.)

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By Joe Shupienis, March 20, 2007 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is encouraging to see an FCC Commissioner who has a grasp of the FCC’s historic guiding principle of “PICON”—that is, licenses are granted only in the Public Interest, Convenience Or Necessity.

Too often, the deepest pockets can buy favorable treatment from the Administration, including the Commission. When this happens, fairness and equality suffer. Far too many stations in far too many markets are all owned by the same few moneyed elite—and the little guy has suffered.

Remember—the intent of Federal Regulation is to give the “little guys” a level playing field in a world dominated by the “big guns”. Without Federal oversight, the “de-regulated”, “relaxed ownership rules” can only result in the rich and powerful controlling all broadcast media, and the poor and underprivileged losing their already too-small voice in the community.

It seems that it is becoming a crime to have suffered the misfortune of not being born rich. That is not the America our Founding Fathers had in mind, nor is it the “Land of Opportunity” once held up as a shining beacon of hope to the rest of the world. Denying the “little guy” a broadcast voice will only result in the tyranny of wealth and the collapse of modern democracy.

Joe Shupienis, Consulting Radio Engineer
FCC Licenses: PG-20-2691, W3BC

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By Chris, March 20, 2007 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I understand the fears of Commissioner Adelstein and others, I disagree with their perception of the current situation.  Namely, that the ownership rules should be updated given the dramatic developments in the media marketplace since the rules were last revisited. 

I do some consulting with the NAB on this issue and we are trying to inform people that this isn’t about corporate giants buying up all local broadcast outlets, but about having fair rules to allow broadcasters to compete against cable, satellite and online outlets.  Broadcasters are asking the FCC to consider whether these decades-old rules should be updated to permit ownership combinations in local markets that will allow local broadcast stations to compete and continue providing free, local broadcast service, including critical lifeline emergency and AMBER Alert information.  Alone, these local broadcasters cannot compete for the advertising revenue they need to survive. 

Within the past few years there have been tremendous developments with the blogosphere, social networking, citizen journalism, and more.  These are wonderful developments that expand our options for getting news and information.  However, the ownership rules should reflect these changes and not continue to burden broadcasters.

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By Fewkes, March 19, 2007 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s great that Mr. Adelstein and Truthdig are leading the effort to keep the internet free of corporate control.  The availability of a diverse source of information has got to threaten those who want to control the internet and control their profits.

Thanks for leading the charge.

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By susan28, March 19, 2007 at 11:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

wow.. good news.. not much of that these days.. a government agency acting in the public interest?  it’s a novel idea but i like it!

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