No Time To Waste


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No Time To Waste

Michael J. Copps
Michael J. Copps
Word on the street is that the Trump Federal Communications Commission transition team has submitted its report to Administration higher-ups and that it has been largely or wholly accepted. What we know of its recommendations, which have not and may never be released as such, makes for awful news. It sounds like an always-on green light for more mergers and acquisitions than ever and for such a deregulatory approach that our media and telecommunications conglomerates will be encouraged to build out monopoly markets across the land. That means one-sixth of our economy will lack meaningful oversight to protect the common good, a.k.a. the public interest.

Keep in mind that the transition report is mostly the product of inside-the-Beltway think tank “experts” working at the conservative, corporate-sponsored American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Likely it has also received the blessing of the even more conservative Heritage Foundation, whose leadership staunchly opposes almost everything promoting the common good.

How strange that these inside, corporate-oriented elites are setting policy for all those voters in rural America and the Rust Belt who made the difference in Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory. Does anyone reading this really believe that those voters want higher cable bills and monopoly set-top boxes (averaging over $230 annually) even though the FCC has the power to open the market for much more affordable alternatives? Do all those good voters, hoping for something that represents real Populism, not Wall Street’s version, really want higher phone bills, more industry consolidation, second-rate broadband service, and an internet controlled by a handful of gatekeepers? I think not. The Trump Administration would err grievously to equate corporate-funded think tanks with the needs of everyday citizens. Unless, of course, its goal all along was to have a Gilded Age government peopled with millionaires and billionaires, brought to power with a feigned populism designed to fool the people.

The new FCC taking shape right now, allied with its far-right allies on Capitol Hill, is poised to act. The Commission will likely be the first to act, probably by the time you read this, because Congress is so busy dismantling the Affordable Care Act, walking away from international agreements on climate change and trade, and getting rid of government generally, that it may not get around to communications for a while. But Congressional action at the committee and subcommittee levels will begin at once, and watch out for communications riders to other bills that could be sneaked through sooner rather than later.

Those who regularly follow this blog know that my concerns go to the very foundations of our democracy. That’s because monopolies and gatekeepers and policies that reject any public oversight to protect the public interest are gnawing away at our ability to govern our nation successfully. We all bear some responsibility for that—Democrats as well as Republicans, citizens as well as political and corporate elites—because we let it happen, we didn’t vote (56% turn-out is a national embarrassment), we didn’t organize between elections, we didn’t put the kibosh on Wall Street-driven corporate monoliths, and we didn’t demand media that would provide us with the news and information we need to make intelligent decisions for the future of our country.

I put the last-mentioned first. I do so because unless people have access to media that provide in-depth journalism and facts instead of just shouted opinions, we’ll never get out of the ditch we’re in. Enough of campaigns that are directed of, by, and for the enrichment of mega-media. Enough of reality-show politics, where media barons treat citizens as just a product to sell to advertisers. The recent Presidential campaign was only the latest and most obvious of this kind of faux democracy where infotainment rules and real issues are deemed an obstacle to corporate profit-making. The 2016 campaign was no aberration. It reflects the new norm. As big media dumb down our civic dialogue, they undermine our country’s very future. When will we learn that unregulated monopoly and democracy cannot coexist?

The only agency with the legislative mandate to protect the public interest and to help ensure media that do their job is the FCC. That’s why insider elites want to strip the Commission of its ability to do its job and to distribute whatever powers they cannot eliminate to a mish-mash of unrelated agencies without the focus or the capacity to get anything meaningful done. Your elected representatives and the FCC need to know that you, your family, friends, and colleagues will not stand for more of that. It’s time to put the brakes on, and then to build more common good protections rather than dismantling them.

In short, it’s time to mobilize. Defenders of net neutrality and an open internet; advocates for affordable broadband for all Americans wherever they live; proponents of real privacy safeguards; opponents of business consolidation and the monopoly markets that ensue; listeners to public radio and TV, already under the axe; citizens who want to be informed by in-depth news so they can cast intelligent votes and monitor their government on an ongoing basis—the time to mobilize is now. Some in the new Administration probably understand that their window of opportunity won’t be open forever. It can’t, given how out of synch its policies are with those that a majority of Americans support. There’s no movement here “like the world has never seen before.” Even in being elected President, Donald Trump fell 3 million votes short in the popular count. Mandate? I don’t think so! But a mandate for you and me? You bet.


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.

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