The FCC’s Public Problem

Yesterday, Gigi Sohn, a senior advisor and legal counsel for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, took to Twitter for an extended Q&A with the public. And remarkably, by most accounts, the discussion was actually useful.

The Twitter chat was prompted by the enormous public outcry in recent weeks regarding Chairman Wheeler’s plans to implement a “pay for play” system on the Internet. That push back from the public has now forced Wheeler to revise his proposal, which would have dismantled the idea of net neutrality and undermined the level playing field of the Internet  (but even this rewrite may not solve the problem). As I have written before, this is particularly troubling in terms of people’s access to news, information and a diversity of voices and viewpoints online.

Sohn should be commended for her willingness to listen and talk honestly about these important issues, but it may have been too little too late.

In the past week more than 50 artists and entertainers have joined 50 investors, 10 senators and huge coalitions of public interest groups and tech companies in blasting Wheeler’s proposal. In a rare move, two of Wheeler’s democratic colleagues on the Commission released statements acknowledging their concerns.

This reversal is just the most recent in a long line of policy moves where the FCC has been caught off guard by public protest and broad-based pressure. For an agency that was established, in part, to protect the public interest, it has an enormous problem with the public. Continue reading

Net Neutrality, Press Freedom and the Future of Journalism

Tuesday’s court decision, which struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order and threatened the future of Net Neutrality, has huge implications for the future of journalism and press freedom.

According to the Pew Research Center, half of all Americans now cite the Internet as their “main source for national and international news.” For young people the number is 71%. While we are nowhere near stopping the presses or tearing down the broadcast towers, the Internet is increasing how we distribute and consume the news today.

The future of journalism is bound up in the future of the Internet. Continue reading

FCC Moves to Beat Back Covert Consolidation

In a rare move, the Federal Communications Commission has thrown a wrench into a company’s plans to consolidate.

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC has intervened in the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to buy seven TV stations from Allbritton Communications. The agency asked Sinclair to “amend or withdraw” its plans to sidestep ownership rules that limit how many stations one company can own.

Earlier this fall, Free Press pushed the FCC to block this deal, citing Sinclair’s use of outsourcing agreements and shell companies to skirt the rules. In new research, we revealed how Sinclair and other companies are using all kinds of shady tactics to grow their empires at viewers’ expense.

In response to our report, Sinclair argued that it “completely complies” with the law. However, it would seem the FCC disagrees and is raising significant concerns about this kind of covert consolidation. Continue reading

Media Consolidation Won’t Save Journalism

The Federal Communications Commission is pushing a plan to gut its 30-year-old newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban. This proposal would allow one company to own a local paper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in a single market. Advocates of more media consolidation argue that allowing TV stations and newspapers to merge is critical to cutting costs and saving local journalism.

This is the same argument the Bush FCC used to try to push through the same bad rules in 2007. Back then, the Senate voted the rules down and the courts later threw them out. It’s time to put this argument to bed for good: More media consolidation won’t save journalism. Continue reading

McDowell’s Scare Tactics Reach New Low

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell increasingly sounds like a man stranded on a desert island, willing to say anything to get a ride back to shore.

Yesterday, Commissioner McDowell stooped to a new low in a talk with bloggers at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He was invited to discuss the FCC’s recent decision to punish Comcast for blocking users from sharing legal content on the Internet.

Comcast was caught red-handed secretly discriminating against innovative technologies used for high-definition online TV, using the same censorship technology the Chinese government uses to block free speech. This discriminatory behavior represents a blatant and outrageous violation of free speech. Continue reading

Debunking The White House’s Media Ownership Myths

On May 15th, on the verge of a full Senate vote on the “resolution of disapproval” that would overturn the FCC decision to gut media ownership rules, the White House released a formal “Statement of Administration Policy” defending the FCC and threatening to veto any bill designed to nullify the FCC’s rule change.

However, the administration got some of their facts wrong. Below is a copy of their statement, with a few notes and clarifications. Continue reading

Cross-Ownership: Less Local News, More Layoffs

FCC chairman Kevin Martin and his Big Media buddies like to suggest that media consolidation creates a stronger media and allows one company to serve the local community better through “synergy” and “efficiencies of scale.”

They suggest that by leveraging the combined resources of media conglomerates and local papers they can bring a new level of service to local communities.

But using the FCC’s own data, we’ve shown that allowing one company to own a major daily newspaper and broadcast station actually decreases the amount of local news in a given community. And this week, one media giant has proven that cross-ownership also leads to fewer jobs. Continue reading