Submitted by Michael Copps to the Benton Foundation and Common Cause on May 6, 2015 - 12:23pm
I can see him now, making his way down the long hallway to visit me at the Federal Communications Commission. As the years went by, it was with the help of a walker, trudging slowly but with always a big smile on his welcoming face, and somehow managing to convey behind him a wheeled cart, filled with a prodigious stack of materials he wanted to talk about and share with me.
I treasured those visits, and I always will. Charles exuded genuineness. No Washington double-speak for him, no hidden agendas, nothing coy, nothing pertinent held back. It was just Charles being Charles, telling it like he saw it (which was usually exactly like it was), and asking for nothing other than public policy to make peoples’ lives better.
At first I wondered where his deep dedication to the public interest came from. I knew he descended from a distinguished family and a privileged background. But this was no case of noblesse oblige, no second or third generation sense of obligation to pay something back for the advantages he had enjoyed. This was instead public interest in his bones, his heart, and his brain.
Charles was a man of many parts. His interests and causes were legion—education, literacy, schools, libraries, museums, a wide range of arts, and civic causes galore. I knew him best for the work he did and the actions he inspired in communications and the media, both in their traditional guises of radio, television and telephones, and then as a visionary on broadband and the Internet.
My friend moved mountains to get the broadband Internet deployed and adopted in every nook and cranny of our country. He developed and helped implement practical plans to realize his vision, both in Illinois where he lived and throughout the nation, particularly in rural America, the inner city, and tribal lands. He understood how schools and libraries could contribute to our kids and our communities, and he was a strong proponent of the E-Rate program. He believed also in a modernized Lifeline program to help low-income Americans access the necessary tools of the Information Age.
Up until the end, Charles was in the thick of battle for an Open Internet. As so much of our civic dialogue goes online, he appreciated that democracy could tolerate no gate-keeping, no fast lanes for the few, no blocking or prioritizing content. He lived to see the Federal Communications Commission do the right thing in February of this year, and I know he smiled about that—and about the wise agency decision encouraging community, or municipal, broadband. I think he is still smiling about these major victories that he helped propel.
So, Farewell, my friend! Your accomplishments, your courage, your grace and simple kindness, live on in us all. Thank you for being not just a national treasure, but a beloved comrade and a truly formative influence in my life. My thanks, my love, go with you.
Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009. His years at the Commission have been highlighted by his strong defense of "the public interest"; outreach to what he calls "non-traditional stakeholders" in the decisions of the FCC, particularly minorities, Native Americans and the various disabilities communities; and actions to stem the tide of what he regards as excessive consolidation in the nation's media and telecommunications industries. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.
The Benton Foundation works to realize the social benefits made possible by the public interest use of communications. Bridging the worlds of philanthropy, public policy, and community action, Benton seeks to shape the emerging communications environment and to demonstrate the value of communications for solving social problems. Communications-related Headlines is a free online news summary service provided by the Benton Foundation. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events.