The Third Pipe is still beyond the horizon: FCC doing the bid of the Big Corporate Brother
August 5th, 2007

Via NewsTrust.

Since 2001, as the gap between the White House speech and the concrete policies continued to broaden, the United States prolonged their free fall into the digital gap, in terms of broadband access, reaching a 15th place in the world, recently estimated by OECD. The bold, energetic pioneer of the digital highways has turned into a sleepy turtle, hardly catching its breath behind other more Internet-speedy rabbit-nations. And, with the Federal Communications Commission approving mass sell-off of public airwaves by the new Internet and cell phone rules, it all means an even bigger step backwards. How’s that?

Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press, and Wally Bowen, executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network and founder of the low power FM station WPVM, meet with Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! to talk about the set of auction rules newly approved by FCC in order to use the 700 megahertz slice of broadband for wireless phones and internet access, a major event for the future of Internet access, which means the future of digital literacy and of the independent media consolidation. Craig thinks that “the Commission really squandered a historic opportunity to bring the benefits of broadband, of high-speed internet access to all Americans.” With this maybe last and best opportunity thrown away, FCC closed the door in the face of a third real competitor in a market over 96% dominated by the phone and cable companies. Wally comes in with details when he says that the 700 megahertz spectrum could have meant greater Internet speeds for rural areas with the cable-telco duopoly as only choice so far, as, unlike the 900 megahertz range, the 700 megahertz range can bend around buildings and mountain ridges, reaching the most isolated regions.

The big questions seems to be “OK, the rural areas need the broadband access to the Internet, but do Americans want it badly enough?” starting with governmental representatives, educational agents and ending with the citizens from rural areas and nationwide. Wally knows that “regardless of ideological stripe, legislators, elected officials at the local level, are extremely concerned about access to affordable broadband,” but considers that Americans “missed a great opportunity to rally members of Congress from rural America, our elected officials in state capitals and local governments, to put pressure on the FCC.” Did the public interest not reach through the FCC’s doors? It’s not been long since we talked about the struggles of the Edwards Campaign and of the Coalition for Internet Freedom. Also, Craig says there was immense public pressure, a widespread public involvement in form of a quarter-million Americans who filed public comments with the FCC on the technical issues of the spectrum auction, growing more awareness. Apparently, they were not enough. Also, the device portability agreement is a small step towards consumers, but does not “guarantee true open access that would create real competition for broadband.”

The mainstream press was not rich in coverage of this major event. The two guests speak of intentional low coverage and even of framing the issue “as some kind of conflict, as a clash of Titans between AT&T and Google or Verizon and Yahoo!,” which takes into shadows the true and full implications of this FCC policy move. Craig thinks that, despite the public pressure, the “media policymaking process has become so corrupted by big money” that came to depend on “a few votes with commissioners at the FCC.” Still, Craig doesn’t think the fight is over. Since the auction was delayed for the next year, the Congress would have time to step in and take action. Also, by the Free the iPhone and FreePress campaigns, Craig hopes to bring more people into these important policy issues, people whom efforts will hopefully ponder the corporate interests and better shape the future of the entire communications system.

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