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Michael J. Copps, photo by Robin Holland
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April 23, 2010

FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps is passionate about the role of media in the United States. That's why two recent court rulings are troubling him. One rolled back restrictions on cross-media ownership (owning a broadcast entity and a newspaper in the same market). The other, in a big victory for telecomm companies, basically states that the FCC has little authority under current law over Internet service providers. Find out more about these and other media issues below.

The Comcast Case and Net Neutrality

In 2006 Bill Moyers investigated the complicated debate about net neutrality in the documentary THE NET @ RISK. Some activists describe the ongoing debate this way: A few 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? And how can we assure equal access for all materials and ideas? 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. As Michael Copps defines it: "This isn't about regulating the Internet, this is making sure that the Internet is kept open and that others don't close the doors and become gatekeepers or the keepers of those tollbooths."

In early April 2010 a federal appeals court handed a set-back to the FCC's ability to police the Internet — ruling that the FCC's purview under current law gives it little authority over broadband services. Copps believes that the companies providing and making a profit from Internet services are not the right people to police the system. And Copps doesn't mince words about the importance of the net neutrality issue:
Our future is going to ride on broadband. How we get a job is going to ride on broadband. How we take care of our health. How we educate ourselves about our responsibilities as citizens. This all depends upon being able to go where you want to go on that Internet, to run the applications that you want to run, to attach the devices, to know what's going on. That's what net neutrality is all about.
More About Net Neutrality

Where Does the US Stand?

Connectivity Regulating broadband content speeds is just one of the Internet issues facing the US public and government. Some people look upon high-speed Internet access as akin to a right. Michael Copps terms it "more transformative than anything since the printing press" and yet for many Americans high speed broadband is either not available or too expensive. A quick look at the OCED's statistics on broadband penetration and cost shows the US's standing. The US has fallen from second to 15th in broadband penetration. Our average download speed is far slower than Japan, Korea, France and a host of other countries. As for price, the US hovers above the middle of the pack in average monthly prices.

Media Ownership

Under the administration of two previous FCC chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin media ownership rules had been relaxed. The FCC then reinstated some of the restrictions prohibiting cross-ownership. But in early 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit lifted the ban on cross-ownership. It's a move which leads many media watchers to fear a further narrowing of voices in mainstream media. As Michael Copps notes: "If your big issue is energy dependence, or climate change, or health insurance, or expanding equal opportunity, this issue of the future of the media, now the media on broadband, has to be your number two issue. Because, on that one, depends on how that big issue that your number one issue gets filtered and funneled to the American people."
Michael J. Copps

Michael J. Copps was nominated for a second term as a member of the Federal Communications Commission on November 9, 2005, and sworn in January 3, 2006. His term runs until June 30, 2010. He was sworn in for his first term on May 31, 2001.

Mr. Copps served from 1998 until January 2001 as assistant secretary of Commerce for Trade Development at the U.S. Department of Commerce. In that role, Mr. Copps worked to improve market access and market share for nearly every sector of American industry, including information technologies and telecommunications. From 1993 to 1998, Mr. Copps served as deputy assistant secretary for Basic Industries, a component of the Trade Development Unit.

Mr. Copps moved to Washington in 1970, joined the staff of Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) and served for over a dozen years as his administrative assistant and chief of staff. From 1985 to 1989, he served as director of government affairs for a Fortune 500 Company. From 1989 to 1993, he was senior vice president for legislative affairs at a major national trade association.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.
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References and Reading:
Michael J. Copps

"The Price of Free Airwaves," Michael J. Copps, THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 2, 2007
Read Michael Copps op-ed on the rights and responsibilities of broadcasters. "Using the public airwaves is a privilege a lucrative one — not a right, and I fear the FCC has not done enough to stand up for the public interest. Our policies should reward broadcasters that honor their pledge to serve that interest and penalize those that don't."

"FCC Commissioner Connects Pearl Jam Censorship To Net Neutrality"
K.C. Jones, INFORMATION WEEK, August 20, 2007
Michael Copps responds to the alleged AT&T-Pearl Jam incident, explaining how it illustrates the need for net neutrality. "Our challenge is to keep [the Internet] open and accessible to folks and running in a neutral fashion, and to avoid those who may be in control of the distribution of that technology from also controlling the content on it. So when something like the episode occurs with Pearl Jam that you're referencing, that ought to concern all of us."

Broadband and Media Threats 'Joined at the Hip'
Read Michael Copps' speech at Free Press' citizen action forum in Chicago, where he discussed the relationship between media consolidation and broadband access. "The broadband and media threats are joined at the hip. If you care about a free and open Internet, you should also care about free and open discussion in the traditional media, particularly over the public airwaves."

"America's Internet Disconnect"
Michael Copps, THE WASHINGTON POST, November 8, 2006
"How have we fallen so far behind? Through lack of competition. As the Congressional Research Service puts it, U.S. consumers face a "cable and telephone broadband duopoly." And that's more like a best-case scenario: Many households are hostage to a single broadband provider, and nearly one-tenth have no broadband provider at all."

"The State of the News,"
The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism's annual repot.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality Debate Resources
Find out more about the ins and outs of the legal debates over net neutrality.

Media Consolidation

Common Cause: Media Consolidation
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. Common Cause's Media and Democracy Projects focuses on consolidation and net neutrality issues.

The Center for Public Integrity
The non-partisan watchdog group recently released a new study on the workings of the FCC called "Well Connected." The study contains several items of note:
  • A Travel report documenting FCC trips and expenses paid for by industry groups.
  • Databases enabling you to find out who owns what media outlets in your own neighborhood.

Colombia Journalism Review: Who Owns What?
"Who Owns What?" by the Colombia Journalism Review (CJR) features a list of media conglomerates and what they own. The page also provides a selected list of articles from the CJR archive on media concentration.

Consumers Union: Nonprofit Publisher of Consumer Reports
The Consumers Union Web page, devoted to telephone-telecommunications regulation, provides a long list of articles, studies, and research describing how the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in 1996 has hurt consumers.

Economic and Political Consequences of the 1996 Telecommunications Act
Thomas Hazlett of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the 1996 Telecommunications Act resulted both in benefits to consumers and in "megamergers" that have benefited stockholders and market function. He contends that increased competition in the market had an effect on the political process, where the Telecommunications industry outspent all other industries in political contributions.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
The Federal Communication Commission is an independent government organization accountable to Congress. The FCC regulates "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable" within U.S. jurisdiction. The FCC Web site features a special section on media ownership which includes information on the Broadcast-Newspaper Cross-Ownership Rule and the Local Radio Ownership Rule in the form of announcements, press releases, and policy studies.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996
This Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Web page is devoted to the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, which promoted deregulation of the telecommunication industry (cable, long distance telephone service, local telephone service, and broadband) to create a competitive communications market and deliver better services and prices to consumers. The Web site features the complete text of the legislation and provides relevant FCC materials related to the implementation and guidelines of the Act.
Free Press is a national nonpartisan organization working on media policy. Free Press favors "a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector." The Web site contains information on its net neutrality and anti-media consolidation efforts.

Also This Week:
As Big Telecom tightens its grip over broadband, is your access to the Web at risk? Bill Moyers talks with FCC commissioner Michael Copps to discuss the future of 'net neutrality', the fight for more democratic media and the future of journalism in the digital age.

View our complete collection of reports on the state of journalism, media consolidation and the Internet.


As President Obama makes the case for strong financial reform, Bill Moyers sits down with veteran regulator William K. Black, who says Wall Street is already been breaking current rules.

View the JOURNAL's complete coverage of the financial crisis.


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