Moyers on America
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Who Owns the Media?
The Net at Risk


The future of the Internet is up for grabs. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) effectively eliminated net neutrality rules, which ensured that every content creator on the Internet-from big-time media concerns to backroom bloggers-had equal opportunity to make their voice heard. Now, large and powerful corporations are lobbying Washington to turn the World Wide Web into what critics call a "toll road," threatening the equitability that has come to define global democracy's newest forum. Yet the public knows little about what's happening behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.

Some activists describe the ongoing debate this way: A small number of mega-media giants owns much of the content and controls the delivery of content on radio and television and in the press; if we let them take control of the Internet as well, immune from government regulation, who will pay the price? Their opponents say that the best way to encourage Internet innovation and technological advances is to let the market-not the federal government-determine the shape of the system.

"The genius of the Internet was that it made the First Amendment a living document again for millions of Americans," says Robert McChesney, a media scholar and activist and co-author of OUR MEDIA, NOT THEIRS. "The decisions that we're going be making ... are probably going to set our entire communication system, and, really, our entire society, on a course that it won't be able to change for generations."


The mid-term elections appear to have moved net neutrality nearer the top of lawmakers' priority lists. Legislation opposed by net neutrality advocates died with the 109th Congress. In January of 2007, Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of South Dakota, and Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, reintroduced pro-neutrality legislation to the new session.

There were also crucial developments in the matter of neutrality and media mergers in late 2006. AT&T's 2006 bid to merge with Bell-South which ran into trouble with federal regulators. Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Robert McDowell refused to participate in the agency's vote on the proposed merger - which led to further debate among commissioners. The upshot for net neutrality? AT&T filed a "letter of commitment" with the Federal Communications Commission in which it promises to observe Net Neutrality principles for at least 24 months as part of the settlement which let the merger go forward.

The letter states in part that AT&T:

commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. This commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth's agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth's wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination."
On March 14, 2007 the discussion over Internet governance continued on Capitol Hill as all five FCC commissioners testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Advocates on both side of the debate pushed for the debate to be at the top of the agenda.

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Check out the results of our online discussion.

Mike McCurry, co-chairman of Hands off the Internet, a coalition of telecommunication-related businesses, and Ben Scott, policy director of the nonpartisan public interest organization Free Press, which advocates in favor of net neutrality, and representative of, responded to the program, each other, and to viewers' comments. Citizens Class on The Net at Risk.

In search of specific information? Just browsing? Select topics below to explore a range of issues, from the new digital divide, voices from the debate over net neutrality, to ways to find out who owns your local media.

In our resources section you'll find essential documents, a glossary, a timeline of media regulation, and sites for further research. Visit Watch & Listen for Web-only video and audio and excerpts from the Moyers program archive and the complete show. Read the transcript of "The Net at Risk."

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