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The Great Deregulator

Deregulation of high-speed fiber-optic phone lines could compromise public’s access to alternative Internet sites.

by Scott Loughrey

As the US braces for another act of state-sponsored terrorism by our government against a sovereign nation, another battle is quietly under way that will greatly affect our future. This one is FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s plans to deregulate our information and entertainment industries.

Naturally, the corporate media is not giving the subject much attention. However, in their Business section the Washington Post recently told us (1/25/03) that Powell wants our nation's big regional telephone companies to provide ultra-fast Internet and video services over new fiber-optic lines without having to lease those lines to competitors. If he’s successful, our ability to surf the internet for alternative viewpoints and to find out about protests and marches could be dramatically curtailed.

This is because the Internet is in the process of moving towards high-speed transmissions. If the phone companies are allowed to keep competitors off the high-speed phone lines they install, they will gradually control the access of large numbers of users who need an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to join in. If powerful interests are allowed to keep monopolies (or more likely, duopolies) in providing ISP services it is hard to imagine they would not also encourage people to visit sites they prefer. This means that efforts to visit the website of Common Dreams, the Baltimore Green Party or this one may take a dramatically longer time than websites more able to pay a premium for top listings—probably pro-establishment sites. In the present political climate it is not hard to imagine that these powerful interests would be tempted to prevent altogether their users from accessing sites that upset the status quo. Certainly we can expect they will defend their monopolies by restricting access to sites critical of them.

People who want the Internet to remain free are going to have to fight this initiative. The companies that deliver the fiber-optic lines to users must be required to allow competitors to offer services through them. This is just as logical as the present situation where we can choose different long-distance carriers because the phone companies are required to allow competitors in.

Our ability to fight and organize on behalf of progressive values will be imperiled if the FCC allows new monopolies to form that control internet access.

Media Deregulation

With few exceptions, the mainstream media have downplayed FCC Chairman Powell’s efforts to deregulate our information and entertainment industries. For example, on the Washington Post website where they last referred to Powell’s plans they included a picture of Powell smiling amiably. Beneath the rosy smile is a link to a related (and complimentary) story entitled, “The Great Deregulator.” Get the message? The Post wants their readers to think this man is “Great” as he continues to take a sledgehammer to our nation’s laws regulating the media and entertainment industries. And this couldn’t be happening at more dangerous time for our democracy.

Mercifully, the Baltimore Sun discussed (1/26/03) the subject thoughtfully in their Sunday Perspective section, pointing out the likely effects of scrapping all rules governing media ownership. For example, we can all expect to see newspapers owning TV stations in the same community. We are also likely to see the same media conglomerate own multiple TV networks. We’ll see broadcasters own two or more TV stations in the same market. We could have corporations owning more than eight radio stations in the same market. Et cetera. The coming wave of consolidation of our nation’s media and entertainment will be staggering. This may be hard to imagine, but our nation’s news will be even fluffier and more dominated by the powers-that-be than today, while our entertainment will be even more vacuous and unfulfilling.

The argument that the Deregulators give for allowing this frenzy of consolidation to take place is that people can still find alternative news and information if they seek them out. However, there is no such thing as a level playing field on information. Powerful interests don’t have to worry if their magazines or news websites are profitable. For example, if loses money for Microsoft, the website still stays, happily dispensing fluff as if it were news. However, your average Mom & Pop alternative media magazine and website that tries to compete with these kinds of interests cannot enjoy the luxury of losing money and staying in business for long.

In this era when respected international journalist John Pilger labels the Bush administration “the Third Reich of our times”, having alternative viewpoints available in the media is invaluable. If the Great Deregulator succeeds with his mad scheme, our democracy will take a beating like never before.

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on February 10, 2003.
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