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Below you find all four sessions of the Citizens Class for "The Net at Risk"
How has the Internet impacted your life?
(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)
Class Is in Session...
"The Net at Risk," Internet scholar and media critic Robert McChesney describes the development of the Internet as the type of revolution that has come along only two or three times in all of human existence. It is the culmination, he contends, of a revolution that began with the birth of language 60,000 years ago. McChesney is not alone in equating the digital revolution with major historical shifts like the industrial revolution, which changed nearly every aspect of life-including political systems, economic power, gender roles, and where and how we live.
When you look at what we are able to do online now that we could not do even a few years ago, you can see examples of the potential of this new technological enterprise. Students can complete a university degree online. Employees from around the world collaborate on projects. People can be encouraged to take a greater role in democracy through the ease of online voting. Doctors in urban areas can diagnose patients in rural areas or consult with colleagues on difficult cases. Parents can keep on top of their child's homework and be in contact with their teacher. Aspiring authors can avoid publisher rejection letters and go straight to their readers online. Computer professionals can often repair their client's software glitches virtually. Users can even lend their expertise to the community-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia. And anyone with a computer can become a broadcaster, movie producer, journalist, or musician.
The Internet is pretty remarkable to those who remember this scene from the World's Fair less than 50 years ago.
But for a whole generation, it's nearly impossible to imagine a pre-Internet world. Even the thought of being tethered to a telephone line is a distant memory, if it's a memory they have at all! Ben and Becca, ages 11 and 9, sat in the back seat of their aunt's car sending instant messages from their iBooks to their father using the wireless connection accessible from the driveway of their home. They were first confused, then indignant when they lost their connection as the car pulled out of the driveway. They assumed that the Internet was like air or water. To them, it is something that should always be there. On demand! At will! 24/7! And, many adults return from other countries surprised at how unconnected their U.S. lives seem in comparison.
The truth is that they can have the kind of 24/7, instantaneous, on-demand access they expect-in dozens of other countries. Just not here in the United States, the birthplace of the Internet. (Find out about communities setting up their own municipal networks.)
Here's a quiz Question: What do South Korea, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, Belgium, Iceland, Sweden Norway, Israel, Japan, Finland, and Singapore have in common?
Answer: All have a higher percentage of inhabitants hooked up to broadband than the United States, and many of them are adding a greater percentage of their population every year than we are. Only 11.4 percent of the U.S. population had broadband subscriptions in 2005, compared with more than double that amount in the Republic of Korea.
The international divide
In this country we often talk of a digital divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Indeed, this technological divide between rural and urban, wealthy and poor, persists. And when it comes to an international digital divide, the U.S. as a nation falls closer to the "have not" side of the equation than our economic rivals in every measure of broadband-subscribership, price, speed, and investment.
BEGIN VIDEO FROM NET @ RISK: FUTURISTIC IMAGES - FROM THE PAST: WORLDS FAIRS IN THE 60s
NARRATOR: '…Someday, people may want to see, as well as talk, over the telephone. What we are doing here is trying out one model of a picture phone - a new dimension in telephoning…
RICK KARR: The World's Fairs of the 1960s promised progress ... and a space-age future ... but we're still waiting.
BEGIN VIDEO FROM NET @ RISK: RICK KARR: Most americans can't get high-speed fiber connections like that. But at some schools, for instance - like the pilot training program at Utah Valley State College -- you can experience internet speeds 10 to 20 times faster than what's available in most U.S. Homes: if you had a connection like this, you could learn to fly, study a foreign language, tutor a child or mentor a student … online.
Fiber-optic networks could revolutionize ...How we learn.
They could also change our democracy for the better. For example, you could go online to participate in a town council meeting -- not just listening and watching high quality video, but actually participating - joining in, asking questions. So that everybody who's actually at the meeting could see and hear you. And not only that…
at the same time your spouse could be using the line to watch a film in high-definition video, with surround sound…and you could record yet another program ... While one of your kids uses the line to gab with a friend ... And another does homework on the World Wide Web. And there'd still be power to spare.
BEGIN VIDEO FROM NET @ RISK: RICK KARR: In Asia ... and across Europe ... governments and private firms have already started using fiber to connect homes to that information superhighway. And the price is right: while most Americans pay around 40 bucks a month to connect over old-fashioned copper wire ... Which runs at about one megabit per second....
BRUCE KUSHNICK: In Korea and Japan, you can get 100 megabit services in both directions for about $40.
RICK KARR: That's one hundred times as fast … for the same price.
Citizens Class: Net Neutrality
What principles should drive our policies regarding technology?
(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)
Class Is in Session...
Remember dial-up access? The buzz on the telephone line and then the long wait for the Web page to load? Today the mere memory of that slowness seems painful. Yet even with new technology and high-speed access, many of us still find our patience tested when we have to wait more than a few seconds for sites to load.
But the large cable and phone companies who provide broadband access say that unless there is major change in the capacity of their networks and the way in which data is transmitted, long waits will be the order of the day. The growing number of Web sites and bandwidth-heavy content on the Internet, they say, threatens to clog the entire system, making everything load more slowly.
So they want to upgrade the system. Good news, right? Well, not to everyone. Upgrading the system is an expensive proposition, and who will pay for it-and how they will pay-has divided Internet users and forced the battle into the national political spotlight. The telecom companies want Web sites that send large packages of data-generally sites that include video, audio, and other multimedia applications-to pay more. That, they insist, is how they'll finance a more robust Internet system.
So what if some sites take longer to load than others because they didn't pay a premium for the network operator to put their data in the fast lane? Would consumers have the patience to wait it out, or would they jump ship for the faster loading competitor's site? What would this new tiered system do to sites that don't have the resources to play ball? Would the telephone and cable companies play fair and charge every site the same fee, or would they slap exorbitant tolls on sites whose content they don't like? What's more, the companies that deliver internet connections to most homes are increasingly in the business of generating content, as well, so supporters of neutrality worry that they'll be in a position to privilege their own content over competitors. For example, if AT&T decided to start its own online auction site, neutrality supporters say, the firm's customers might find themselves unable to use eBay -- unless Congress protects net neutrality. Get a brief introduction to the debate from the video.
These are the issues being debated by Congress and these are the issues we will consider in this session of the MOYERS ON AMERICA Citizens Class. It is an important and contentious issue. And there is much at stake.
In this Citizens Class, you will learn more about the issues at the heart of this debate, and have an opportunity to contribute your ideas about what should be considered in a sound telecommunications policy. In addition to this discussion guide, we encourage you to read Net Neutrality: Background and Issues, a report to Congress prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, the office which provides information on important issues to representatives and senators. (Read Broadband Internet Regulation and Access: Background and Issues)(PDF)
We also have invited two guest bloggers who are telecommunications experts with different ideas on what they think our telecommunications policy should be. Just as Congress does when it invites experts to testify on pending legislation, this class is your opportunity to pose questions to further your understanding of the issues and possible consequences of various policy options. Much like they would do in giving testimony on the Hill, our guest bloggers will be monitoring the questions you pose at the end of this page and will respond].
Read through this brief guide and think about the questions you would need answered before developing new telecommunications policy. Some of the questions you will want to consider:
In order to understand this issue, we need to back up and understand how the Internet works how content on the Internet is developed and delivered.
Telecommunications companies are the network operators that carry online content (Web sites, data, video, VOiP) to Internet users. Content is created by big companies like Google, Amazon and eBay, as well as by small retail businesses, artists and musicians, news organizations, nonprofits, educational institutions and individuals with something to say-basically, any Web site can be considered a content creator. Currently, Internet traffic is delivered on an equal basis. That is, a family Web site where members can download video of the last reunion picnic is treated the same as a newspaper site or any other data streaming down the information superhighway.
This system of delivery is called net neutrality - no one gets special preference and it's the Internet version of the legal concept of "common carriage" or that no customer seeking reasonable service - and able to pay a competitive price - would be denied lawful use of a transportation service or would otherwise be discriminated against. Net neutrality was the rule until recently because the Federal Communications Commission had enforced that system. But, in 2002, the FCC decided that neutrality didn't apply to cable internet. And in the summer of 2005, the FCC replaced them the net neutrality rules suggested "principles" for an open internet. (Glossary of net neutrality terms)
At the core of the net neutrality debate is whether or not network operators-those who control the lanes on the superhighway-should be allowed to charge higher rates for large Internet packet streams being sent by content providers. The telephone and cable companies want the high-bandwidth data users to pay. As AT&T Chairman Edward Whitacre Jr. told Business Week, "Why should they be allowed to use my pipes [i.e., my network]? The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment, and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use the pipes [for] free is nuts."
The ways that network operators might put this system into operation are to selectively block packets of data, adjust the quality of service (speed, for example), or adjust prices so that larger packets that include multimedia applications would pay more. Some critics of this system like Columbia Law professor Timothy Wu say it in effect adds up to paying twice. "The Bell companies want the opportunity to charge twice. They want to charge for Google to connect to the network at all, and then they want to charge another price to reach their consumers."
Other critics say that this move by the telecom companies violates a core principle of the Internet. They propose restrictions on the owners of the networks, to ensure equal access and nondiscriminatory treatment. "Owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network; and should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network" wrote the Congressional Research Service in its report to Congress. Still others are concerned that the plethora of voices now available online might be reduced - or rendered less effective - because those who could pay for faster travel would most likely win out for users. Some neutrality supporters say the "pipes" don't even belong to the telephone and cable companies -- that they're not Ed Whitacre's pipes at all -- because tax breaks and government subsidies helped pay for the network.
(Read the Congressional Research Service report) (PDF)
Issues that are driving this debate:
(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)
Class Is in Session...
The United States as discussed in the New Digital Divide Citizens Class has fallen far behind much of the world in broadband penetration, and our broadband connections are significantly slower than those in many other countries.
But that's not the worst of it. Some rural communities, like Lafayette, Louisiana, that couldn't get high-speed Internet from their cable or telephone company simply decided to build networks themselves. And then the backlash began, with large commercial providers lobbying state legislatures and filing suit in court to stop local communities from doing what these telcom giants allegedly wouldn't do themselves. And now, there are several bills in Congress addressing the issue one would protect the right of local communities to set up such networks others which would make them nearly impossible.
Here, we'll explore community Internet and municipal networks extending broadband service to rural communities and meeting the goals of universal service. We'll also learn about legislation affecting municipal networks and how you can track what is happening in your community on this front.
New community internet networks-like the one in Lafayette-crop up across the country every day. This new technology is making it possible for cities and towns to improve access to information, provide education and job training, enhance public safety, foster technological innovation, and bolster local economic development.
Communities are connecting their residents to the Internet through fiber, wireless technology and "mesh networks," which transmit broadband signals through antennas throughout the city. Rural areas, often deemed unprofitable by broadband providers, are now joining the Internet revolution, taking advantage of wireless services by doing it themselves. Some of the benefits of community Internet are universal affordability, public access, community development, and competitive advantages.
Jim Baller, an expert on public broadband and the attorney who represented Lafayette, has made the case that public electric utilities are ideally positioned to play an important role in building the national information infrastructure. They follow the ethic of universal service and their participation could increase competition in the delivery of telecommunications and information services. Further, they have historically filled the gaps left by private enterprise and served as yardsticks for measuring the reasonableness of prices and quality of services. In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt charged, "Where a community, or a city, or a county, or a district is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable right as one of its functions of government … to set up … its own governmentally owned and operated service."
Bumps in the Information Superhighway
The problem with these community Internet networks is that they frequently encounter significant roadblocks. Big telcom companies have lobbied to prevent municipalities from offering broadband service. More than a dozen states now have laws on the books restricting municipal broadband. Five states approved anti-municipal broadband measures in 2005 alone or added on to their current restrictions. But in nine other states, attempts to restrict community Internet projects were either defeated or delayed indefinitely.
Congress is currently considering reforms to the telcom laws, and community Internet is on the agenda. The Lautenberg-McCain Bill (S. 1294), for example, would "preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services," ensuring that local communities everywhere can decide for themselves how to best serve the technology needs of their own citizens.
But two other bills, one in the Senate and one in the House, would be detrimental to community Internet projects. In the Senate, Nevada Republican John Ensign introduced The Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act, S. 1504, a bill which would require local governments wishing to offer broadband services to ask the private provider for permission. Existing municipal projects would be grandfathered in, but would not be able to expand services. In the House, Texas Republican Pete Sessions introduced H.R. 2726, "Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005," a bill which would prevent any city in the country from providing their citizens with Internet access if a private company offers service nearby. The bill would prohibit municipal wireless projects in any locale where a private provider serves 10 percent of the population or above.
BEGIN VIDEO FROM NET @ RISK:
JOEY DUREL: We have an out-migration problem with our young people from Louisiana. And I felt it was time for politicians to quit talking and do something.
RICK KARR: Something like building every home and business in town its own fiber-optic connection to the information superhighway.
DON BERTRAND: We see-- telecommunications in the way of Internet, in the way of fiber connectivity as something that should be available to everyone.
STEPHEN HANDWERK: Just like water, sewer, electricity, telephone. I mean it all falls into that same lump.
JOEY DUREL: I think this is a tremendous-- opportunity for small business and to attract business here.
RICK KARR: Lafayette's phone company, BellSouth, and its cable company, Cox Communications, told residents that they'd have to wait a decade or longer for better internet connections - like the ones they take for granted in Tokyo.
STEPHEN HANDWERK: Up until recently, the majority of the parish only had one-way communication on their cable, so they could download information. However, but to be able to send any information, they had to be able to connect through a phone modem.
JOEY DUREL: …if we didn't do it this community would not get it for 20 or 30 years, who knows?
RICK KARR: Joey Durel is the City/Parish President of Lafayette. He calls himself a progressive Republican ... Who sees no reason why local government shouldn't provide services that the private sector won't.
JOEY DUREL: You know, there are things that are gonna be available three, or four, or five years from now, that nobody has even thought about yet, and-- and that's gonna happen. And Lafayette will be-- uniquely positioned to take advantage of that, unlike most of the country.
RICK KARR: So what the city decided to do was build its own fiber network ... Through its municipal power and water company, Lafayette Utility Systems ... Or LUS.
Terry Huval is the utility's director.
RICK KARR: A lot of people think of the Internet as being sort of the triumph of-- the marketplace - the triumph of entrepreneurship. Why would a public utility need to get involved with the Internet?
TERRY HUVAL: The community wanted to have competitive options for telephone and-- mainly cable television service. Cable television service drove us even to look at this. Because people were so dissatisfied with the cable TV company continuingly going up on their rates.
RICK KARR: When the city-owned utility started to build its own small fiber network ... Looping around town to link up its generators, substations, and offices ... Huval had an "a-ha!" Moment:
TERRY HUVAL: That's what created the vision of saying, "We can do something special for our community, for the people that own this utility system."
(Transcripts of video clips are at the end of the document.)
Class Is in Session...
In 1941, the federal government regulated the ownership of media outlets to ensure a broad spectrum of opinion. The Local Radio Ownership Rule, National TV Ownership Rule stated that a broadcaster cannot own television stations that reach more than 35% of the nation's homes. Many other regulations followed as the American media landscape changed. In the 1980s the climate changed in the U.S. -- fewer federal regulations became the order of the day under President Reagan. (View a timeline of media regulation.)
Then came the Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by President Clinton. It is generally regarded as the most important legislation regulating media ownership in over a decade. The radio industry experienced unprecedented consolidation after the 40-station ownership cap was lifted. Clear Channel Communications now owns 1200 stations, in all 50 states, reaching, according to their Web site, more than 110 million listeners every week. Viacom's Infinity radio network holds more than 180 radio stations in 41 markets. Its holdings are concentrated in the 50 largest radio markets in the United States. In 1999, Infinity owned and operated six of the nation's Top 10 radio stations.
Then in 2003 ownership limits came up for review again -- media companies wanted ownership rules relaxed further. Among the proposed changes: allowing greater cross-ownership in media markets (newspapers and broadcast stations, radio and television stations) and caps on television and radio stations ownership raised in large markets. In addition, the FCC proposed that a single entity could own television stations reaching up to 45 percent of the national viewership, an increase from 35 percent.
In 2003, Barry Diller, the man who created Fox Broadcasting and ran ABC Entertainment, Paramount, Vivendi Universal, spoke out against the rule changes to an industry group - and to Bill Moyers. (Diller is currently chairman and CEO of USA Interactive, itself an empire of informational services from the Home Shopping Network to Ticketmaster.)
What about the fairness doctrine?
Critics of consolidation fear that the fewer the owners the fewer the voices on the airwaves. Several recent cases -- among them Sinclair Broadcasting's decision not black out names and faces in an episode of NIGHTLINE which listed the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq - have media watchers saying conglomerates have too much power over the message heard.
The Communications Act of 1934, as amended, called for stations to offer "equal opportunity" to all legally qualified political candidates running for office. In 1949, the FCC adopted the "fairness doctrine," a policy that viewed station licensees as "public trustees" and, as such, responsible for addressing controversial issues of public importance. The key requirement was that stations allowed opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on these issues.
By the 1980s, many stations saw the FCC rules as an unnecessary burden. Some journalists considered the fairness doctrine a violation of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press; they felt reporters should be able to make their own decisions about balancing stories. In order to avoid the requirement of presenting contrasting viewpoints, some journalists chose not to cover certain controversial issues at all. In addition, the political climate of the Reagan administration favored deregulation. When the fairness doctrine came before the courts in 1987, they decided that since Congress did not mandate the doctrine, it did not have to be enforced.
(You can also see how the major news stations prioritize the news by visiting the Tyndall Report. Andrew Tyndall has watched the major broadcasts for six years.)
What happens to local media?
Another key worry surrounding media consolidation is that as ownership of newspapers, radio and television stations are concentrated in fewer hands - a vital connection to the local community is lost. NOW WITH BILL MOYERS and correspondent Rick Karr told a cautionary tale about the risks of media consolidation to local communities.
The story, broadcast in April 2003, starts in Minot, North Dakota where a train derailment spilled two hundred and ten thousand gallons of ammonia and a toxic cloud. Authorities wanted to get the word out to Minot residents: stay indoors and avoid the area near the derailment. So they tried to get in touch with six local commercial radio stations.
Lots of lobbying and advertising money is being spent on net neutrality and ownership rules in DC. In 2006, the FCC approved the sale of substantially all of the cable systems and assets of Adelphia Communications Corporation to Time Warner Inc. and Comcast Corporation. And, in July 21, 2006, BellSouth shareholders approved the $67 billion sale of the company to AT&T, which would further expand the latter company's reach in the telecommunications sector and place Cingular under a single owner.
BEGIN CLIP, INTERVIEW WITH BARRY DILLER, NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 2003
BILL MOYERS: Why now? Why did you choose this moment to speak out on media conglomeration?
BARRY DILLER: Well, I don't know. Maybe because, you know, all the forces are, so to speak, gathered. What's happened is, is that this oligopoly that was attempted to be prevented by regulation over the last 30 years. You know? 30 years ago, three companies controlled 90 percent of everything we heard or saw. And that was a bad idea. Now four companies, five companies control 90 percent of everything we see.
BILL MOYERS: Oligopoly. That's your word. I mean, that's a very strong word.
BARRY DILLER: Well, it certainly isn't an exaggeration.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by it?
BARRY DILLER: What I mean is, is that is that a very… a handful of companies are in charge of everything both vertically and horizontally that you get to see through a screen, a television screen not a computer screen. And I think… what I do think has to come along with that are rules and regulations that will make it so. That what we do not have in this country is a media and communications business that has no other voices in it. No air in it.
BILL MOYERS: Has that happened?
BARRY DILLER: Sure.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, you stated in your speech that ten years ago independent producers in Hollywood created 16 new television series. Last year, only one.
BARRY DILLER: Uh-huh.
BILL MOYERS: Is that the consequence of oligopoly?
BARRY DILLER: Sure it is.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
BARRY DILLER: Well, if you have… if, in fact, 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. Used to have dozens and dozens of thriving independent production companies producing television programs.
Now you have but, you know, less than a handful. What has caused that? What's caused that is the forces of consolidation and consolidation. And I am not saying that those forces are bad and that the results are evil. What am I saying is that with that I think comes the necessity to say, "Well, you can't own all your programs." Well, you can't own every voice there is to own.
There should be some restraints. And more importantly, what's happened to broadcasting is that broadcasting really used to be… it used to have a very clear public service quotient. And it's more or less now. And it's been lost. Now, you know, I mean, other things have been lost too. But this perfect balance which was fear. Fear that your license would get taken away from you.
Plus a real sense of public service responsibility. That those airwaves actually belonged to the public. You used them. You profited from them. But you had to keep it in balance. That was a healthy environment. And in that environment, of course, mistakes get made, excesses happen. But they rebalance themselves. Today, after Mark Fowler says…
BILL MOYERS: The FCC… Chairman of FCC in the Reagan Era.
BARRY DILLER: In the '80s.
BILL MOYERS: Right.
BARRY DILLER: Who says, you know, a television is a toaster. It's just there for marketing. All that goes away. So…
BILL MOYERS: You sell a lot of toasters on television.
BARRY DILLER: Yeah, I do. I'm happy to continue to sell toasters. But, in fact, that's not what these mass engines of communication which are so vital. You know, they're so influential in everything. They have to have other aspects of responsibility and balance in order to do what they should be doing.
BILL MOYERS: Could a young Barry Diller make it today? A young Ted Turner? Could there be a new ESPN? A new CNN?
BARRY DILLER: Almost impossible.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
BARRY DILLER: Because, again, there is, you know, given the levels of concentration, if you're a new player, you have a new idea, you know? Ted Turner started with TBS which was a rundown Atlanta television station that he got to Superstation status. But he was still a tiny, little player when he said, "You know, I've got this idea for a 24 hour, you know, news network."
Of course everybody thought he was crazy. Everybody thought that it was hopeless. And, but what he did in individual sellings, he sold cable system after cable system on this idea. He got backing from a whole group of people to start what was then just a stand-alone. I mean, he didn't have very much than that.
That can't happen today. It can't happen today because if you knock on the door of these entities, they say well, first of all, you know, it's not independent by definition 'cause we'll own it. You know? There's no chance you can own it. That's gone now. So as the stakes rise, you know, that becomes virtually impossible.
BILL MOYERS: Where does a young, bright upstart go with an idea?
BARRY DILLER: Somewhere else. You know, you don't, you know, look. In media and in entertainment and in certainly in journalism, I mean, if you've got a great idea, an idea will out. It'll just be owned by one of the large and concentrated players. I mean, that is…
BILL MOYERS: Five of them now.
BARRY DILLER: That is, it's reality. Yeah. So, and it's not that that's just altogether horrible thing. But what I do think is these five players who believe they are living in a justifiably unregulated universe should have enough regulation, enough regulation not that strangles them by any stretch to stop these absolute forces of complete vertical and horizontal integration.
BILL MOYERS: Is this a change of heart for you? I mean, you've run huge companies. You run one now. If I remember correctly, when Disney bought ABC you said, "This is a great transaction."
BARRY DILLER: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: What's different now?
BARRY DILLER: Well, I think what's different now are a couple of things. The first thing that is different now is that the… I had hoped when I… that the regulatory process would tightly follow consolidation and concentration. And that, in fact, what would not happen is that we would not be living in an area where it is considered, you know, antique and, you know, stupidly liberal to have, you know, regulations, you know?
Laissez-faire. Let it all mix. Well, the fact is that unless… my feeling is that if regulation had kept with this. If, in fact, we had not gone and raised the caps on broadcasting on what any one person could own in broadcasting, if, in fact, we had said in this Communications Act of '96 that we would actually impose real public service obligations on broadcasters and not toss them out. I mean, much of this would… consolidation would have happened. But it would have allowed other voices to come in. It would have allowed… again, it would have just simply stopped complete vertical and horizontal development.
BILL MOYERS: You mentioned the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The chairman of the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, said at that time and he was a Democrat… Here's what he said. "The new law is intended to begin the era of genuine competition."
BARRY DILLER: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: And you say just the opposite has…
BARRY DILLER: Well, it was.... That what happened is, is that instead of the competition that was supposed to get more voices and all of those things, in fact, this, you know, I think dangerous oligopoly reconstituted itself in ways that nobody thought that thought would happen at the time.
And so what I think now is as the FCC is thinking about increased tossing more and more out. But instead they think about this issue for not only broadcast but the cable business which is now, you know, a cable business. One little…
BILL MOYERS: …dominating.
BARRY DILLER: …one little... You know? I don't know. Five, ten years ago there were thousands and thousands of cable operators, you know? Serving their local communities. Now, there are three big ones and three mid-size ones. And no one else essentially. So, and the…
BILL MOYERS: And the consequence is?
BARRY DILLER: Still, the consequences are in any completely concentrated area, the consequences have to be that when you get that kind of size that, in fact, it has to restrain the ability of any new player. It gives them such buying power. It gives them such overwhelming power in the marketplace that, in fact, everyone has to do essentially what they say.
BEGIN CLIP, "BIG MEDIA," NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, 4/4/03
RICK KARR, NPR CORRESPONDENT: In January of last year, a train derailed in Minot, North Dakota. Two hundred and ten thousand gallons of ammonia ...and a toxic cloud ... spilled out of it.
Authorities wanted to get the word out to Minot residents: stay indoors and avoid the area near the derailment. So they tried to get in touch with six local, commercial radio stations.
All six of those commercial stations out of a total of seven in minot are owned by one huge radio and advertising conglomerate: Clear Channel Communications. It's been buying up radio stations across the country and replacing their live, local programs with shows recorded in far-off studios that only sound local.
CLEAR CHANNEL DJ: "I'm Becky Wight -- have a great weekend!"
RICK KARR: Minot authorities say when they called with the warning about the toxic cloud, there was no one on the air who could've made the announcement. Clear Channel says someone was there who could have activated an emergency broadcast. But Minot police say nobody answered the phones.
Clear Channel owns more than twelve hundred radio stations nationwide; they have an audience of over one hundred ten million listeners a week. Critics of the company say that its way of doing business is symptomatic of what's wrong with the American media today that it's grown too big for the public's good.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND): "We're headed in exactly the wrong direction. In these areas you need to have your foot on the brake, not your hand on the throttle."
RICK KARR: At a recent hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan used the Minot incident as a warning: that as large media companies like Clear Channel buy up the last remaining independent media outlets across the country, the public suffers.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND): I think all of us ought to be concerned when we see this massive concentration occurring
RICK KARR: Dorgan grilled Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell over a phenomenon that's redrawn the landscape of the American media over the last decade.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND) (FROM TAPE): "Do you not agree, for example, that if you had moved last month to Minot, North Dakota, and all of the commercial stations in that city are owned by one company, that there's been a diminution of competition? That it's diminished, that it's not beneficial to the consumer to have no competition among the radio stations, commercial stations, in Minot? Would you agree with that?
MR. POWELL (FROM TAPE): Yes, I would agree it's a problem.
RICK KARR: The problem's known as "media consolidation" ... multibillion-dollar media conglomerates growing larger and larger ... as they buy up their competitors ... and independent broadcasters ... and then centralize their operations. Critics of consolidation say it's happening at the expense of local communities ... and journalism.
RICK KARR: Consolidation started in earnest in 1996 after Congress passed a bill that set aside most limits on how much of America's broadcasting industry big media firms could own. Since then, almost a third of the country's radio station owners have been bought out by conglomerates.
Then there's television: more than three-quarters of Americans now watch channels that are owned by just six companies.
And those companies own dozens of the best-known names ... across the media. Just one example: Viacom ... Owns CBS... ...UPN ... MTV ... BET ... Nickelodeon ... Showtime ... Paramount Pictures ... thirty-nine local TV stations ... the nation's second-largest radio chain ... more than a hundred thousand billboards ... more than four thousand Blockbuster stores ... And the venerable publishing house Simon and Schuster.
And that's just a partial list.
FRANK BLETHEN, PUBLISHER AND CEO, THE SEATTLE TIMES: If we go out 20 years from now with the same pace of concentration of media ownership we've had for the last 20 we will not have a democracy. There's simply no way.
RICK KARR: Frank Blethen is a newspaper publisher and a critic of media consolidation. He represents the fourth generation of his family to run the independent daily THE SEATTLE TIMES.
He says consolidation hurts the public and its only benefit is to the bottom lines of a few media conglomerates.
FRANK BLETHEN: The CEO's get compensated not on their journalism, not on the Pulitzer prizes they win, not on some investigative piece that pisses off a major retailer. What they get compensated for is did you lay enough people off and reduce your news content enough and raise your prices enough so that the stock price went up. If you care about journalism, if you care about your local communities, and if you care about democracy you're not in it for the maximum dollar.