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Big and Bigger Media

In 1984 the number of companies owning a controlling interest in America's media was 50 - today that number is six. Critics of media consolidation say it has led to fewer and fewer perspectives being presented -- and a marked decrease in local news coverage.

Instrumental in the march toward consolidation was the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which deregulated the industry to "create a competitive communications market and deliver better services." But the Act has many critics, including media magnate Barry Diller, who spoke frankly about the Act and consolidation on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS in 2003. "You have companies that produce, that finance, that air on their channel and then distribute worldwide everything that goes through their controlled distribution system. Then, in fact, what you get is fewer and fewer actual voices participating in the process." Those favoring deregulation say the market merely provides what the people want.

Diller was worried about yet additional relaxation of ownership rules proposed by the FCC in 2003. That battle over how many media outlets an entity could own in a market got quite heated - with loud public hearings, Congressional votes, spending bill maneuvers and a "resolution of disapproval." In a last-minute deal, Senate Republican leaders and the White House compromised on the TV station ownership cap. It was increased just enough to allow Viacom and News Corporation to keep all their stations (a 39% limit). Then came the court challenges. The rules are up for review again this year. (See the media consolidation timeline.)

Some media watchers are worried that the much touted "free for all" of the Internet will go the same way. Proponents of "net neutrality" worry that the cable and telecom companies providing the bulk of Internet connectivity will use new fee structures, which may favor some content providers over others. Phone and cable companies have a near monopoly over internet service. More precisely, it's a 'duopoly,' which means that in more than 90 percent of American homes in the U.S., they're the only two potential sources of Internet service. The cable company's only competitor is the phone company, and vice-versa

Will consolidation of Internet service providers affect the quality, content and quantity of the Internet? Talk about it in the Citizens Class.

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