Tales of the Sausage Factory

“Updating” Media Ownership Rules — Is That Like Boiling a Frog?

It’s an old cliche that it’s easy to boil a frog. Don’t drop the frog in the boiling water — he’ll just climb out. Drop him in the pot and raise the temperature a little at a time. Before he knows it, he’ll be dead.

We have that with media consolidation and the non-stop relaxation of the rules. But instead of calling it “boiling,” proponents of consolidation call it “updating.” This attempt to describe relaxing the ownership rules to allow more consolidation as “updating,” when the evidence shows that the last round of consolidation kicked off by the 1996 deregulation has been a disaster for the industry and a disaster for democracy, came up again at yesterday’s media ownership hearings.

Powell tried to frame it as a debate about evidence v. “emotionalism.” He lost because the evidence did not justify his efforts to relax the rules. Now FCC Chairman Martin is trying to frame this as “updating” the rules, when a real “update” would mean forcing the biggest companies to sell off assets to scale back to a healthier size.

My analysis below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Spikes Report Undermining Deregulation

Author’s note. I have significantly reedited this story in light of the fact that Michael Powell denies seeing the report or ordering it purged and that the only source on record states only that the order came from “a senior FCC official.” It is entirely possible that Powell never saw the study, and that someone much lower down the chain took action on his or her own. But this is why we need a thorough investigation.

“Unfortunately, many have turned this critically important policy debate into a political one, substituting personal ideology and opinion for the facts. If we are to craft responsible media policy for the 21st century, everyone involved in this debate must set aside the rhetoric, put the public interest before political interest and focus on ‘just the facts.’”

So wrote Michael Powell in an Op Ed in USA Today in January 2003. Powell was talking about the FCC proceeding to review its media ownership rules. He believed the facts would prove that deregulating the mass media would not harm local news. If anything, I expect Powell believed it would improve it. Doesn’t deregulation make everything better?

But according to this story by the Associated Press, The FCC conducted a study on the impact of deregulation of the media on local news, only to suppress it when it proved deregulation significantly hurts local news.

I do not believe Kevin Martin knew this report even existed before Senator Barbra Boxer (D-CA) sprung it on him yesterday. But I do think Martin has an obligation to investigate and make the results of the investigation known. If the FCC did suppress the report, then it needs to take steps to ensure that such things will not happen again. Because, while Powell was wrong about the impact of deregulation, he was right about one thing: “Only the facts will enable us to craft broadcast-ownership restrictions that ensure a diverse and vibrant media marketplace for the 21st century.”

A bit of back story below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How the FCC Made Star Trek Possible

Today marks the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek, now referred to as Star Trek: The Original Series (or just ST:TOS). I make no secret of my love for ST:TOS, and credit it with (among other things) imbuing me with a sense of idealism and optimism against the odds. But few realize how FCC regulation of broadcasting made the creation and syndication of Star Trek possible — and why deregulation has made it so much harder for something like Star Trek to hapen today.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

What did Martin Really Say About a “Tiered” Internet?

Much has been made over statements made by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin at this week’s TelecomNext trade show. As we at MAP have just had an experience with how often the press misunderstands Martin’s rather carefull statements, I am not as ready as many of my comrades to declare that the end is nigh. There is a huge difference between “customer tiering” (where a customer gets to chose the level of service), “provider provisioning” (where a provider pushes packets faster via Akami or bit torrent), and “Whitacre tiering” (where the ISP charges third parties for “premium” access to subscribers without regard to subscriber preferences). As explained below, figuring where Martin is proves harder than people assume.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Did the Bells Rip Off America? and Is There An Alternative?

I want to put two pieces side by side here: Bruce Kushnik’s magnum opus The $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, accusing the Bell Companies of ripping off the U.S. public to the
and Bob McChesnney’s and John Podesta’s visionary Let There Be Wi-Fi talking about the power of unlicensed spectrum as a broadband solution.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

DSL Item Released — coulda been worse

After pushing the FCC’s open meeting off for a day and then delaying another hour and half to reach a compromise, Martin got his DSL reclassification order by a uninamous Commission. Instead of the complete deregulation proposed by Powell, the Commission will take steps to protect “network neutrality” and will take steps to protect various other “social” policies (including, unfortunately for us civil libertarian folks, the ability of the FBI to read your email).

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: FCC on Wireless–Mostly Snooze But Some Stuff I Can Use

Lost in all the hoopla last week on the Multicast Must Carry Vote (which I can explain in a future column) was the FCC’s Broadband Wireless Report. It’s conclusion – Wireless Broadband Is Good. Policy recommendations: Stay the Course.

Well, it’s a _bit_ more than that, but not much. See below….

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Victory is SWEET!

I will have a lot more to say on this later, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has issued its decision on the FCC’s media ownership deregulation that took place last summer.

The result is a near total victory for MAP and the other public interest clients and the American people. The FCC’s June 2, 2003, deregulatory Order is reversed as not supported by logical reasoning based on the record. The court reverses and remands to the FCC, keeping the old rules in effect until the FCC resolves this mess. The court rejects the FCC’s position that the provision of the 1996 Act that requires the FCC to conduct a review of its ownership rules is “deregulatory” or that it prohibits the FCC from making ownership regulations more stringent. Instead, the FCC is supposed to review its ownership rules and decide whether the public interest requires the FCC to keep the rule, relax the rule, eliminate the rule, or make the rule even more stringent.

More information at our website.

YEEEEEEHAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Tales of the Sausage Factory: Goodies for the Broadcasters, Zip for the Public

Only in Washington would the Clear Channels of the world, those great champions of efficiencies and deregulation, declare that their monopoly on local content must be protected with regulation. And only in Washington would the deregulatory anti-big-government Republicans lap it up with a spoon. The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has petitioned the FCC and Congress to prohibit the new satellite radio competitors from providing local content (mostly traffic and weather). Of course, this is moving at hyperspeed, while the effort to impose real public interest obligations on the broadcasters moves at one quarter impulse. Still, I can’t help stirring the pot at the FCC and seeing what bubbles up.

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