Information Is Power Power Is Wealth

August 22, 2005
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The devil is always in the details and so it is with proposals for the Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act, quickly picking up summer heat — the heat of the telecommunications industry lobbies hell-bent on “improving” a competitive environment, and heat from those who understand the vast losses to individual communities that would no longer have any oversight of video, cable and broadband service.

The “Choice” Act introduced in the Senate by John Ensign, R-Nevada, and co-sponsored by John McCain, R-Arizona, eliminates all state and local authority in regard to these significant services, and leaves all issues to the Federal Communications Commission complaint process.

One small business owner in a rural area explained one of the big problems with this act succinctly in an e-mail to the senators: “As a small business owner who lives in a rural area with zero high-speed Internet options from the telecos and an outrageous $1,000/month offer from Sprint for a T-1 line, this concept of disallowing municipalities from providing infrastructure services (has him boiling). No DSL, no cable modem, but if my township wants to build a Wi-Fi network, it won’t be allowed under federal law.”

The new legislation continues a vast legacy of bad judgment that began in 1984 with telecom deregulation in consideration of emerging cable companies, legislation that had to be amended in 1992 with Congress regulating the cable companies, though cable had already grown to monopoly status. And pay no mind to the growing media monopolies in which broadcasters now own many of the “new media” outlets. A recent regional “buy” providing evidence comes to mind with the Knight-Ridder “exchange” of the Detroit newspapers with Gannett, and Gannett’s ownership of television stations in Detroit as well as WZZM Channel 13.

Some would say the new proposal has its upside in that it is meant to “establish a market-driven telecommunications marketplace, to eliminate government managed competition of existing communication service and to provide parity between functionally equivalent services,” according to Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt & Howlett attorney Tim Lundgren (see story on page 3), who also said the disadvantages and flaws in the legislation override the intent. Such losses include the very likely disappearance of local Internet Service Providers, because cable operators are not required to pay franchise fees or open their networks to competitors, including competing ISPs (a June 2005 Supreme Court decision).

Ten states have considered and rejected such proposals and limitations, as now proposed by the federal government. Under provisions of the act those states and every other would become an enforcement arm for the FCC. The act also effectively eliminates access to public, government and education cable selections.

Lest any reader forget, Grand Rapids is known around the world and held as the kingdom of community media access, through the Community Media Center. Its concept was taken around the globe by its recently deceased director Dirk Koning. Prior to his death in February, Koning was already keenly aware of the act and its effects, and set out with local and state government officials to block what he considered “the Verizon (for example) attempt” to usurp the very thing he helped build: access for everyone, including those on the “last mile” of access.

Small business owners along the rural highways would exactly agree with Koning’s assessment that “information is power, and power is wealth.” 

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