*TELCO POLICY

Below you will find the talking points of a presentation that focused on both a brief legislative policy summary of the past two years and the current telco policy landscape especially concerning grassroots and counter-lobbying efforts. Keep in mind that there issues are constantly changing and this is in no way a comprehensive analysis but rather an introductory means to familiarize oneself with some of the more fundamental aspects of the debate and the issues that are being contested (Spring 2007).


Setting the Stage
COPE (Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006)
Aka H.R.5252
  • grants national video franchises to telephone and cable companies, promising competition in some areas in exchange for the elimination of franchise agreements
  • funding for public access programming is enshrined into national law
  • half-baked network neutrality protections
  • overturn state legislation restricting deployment of Community Internet systems
Status: Passed the House of Representatives
Kill the Bill: Democratic victory in mid-term elections effectively killed HR5252
  • Network Neutrality
  • Community Internet
  • Video Franchising
  • Consumer Protection
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • video franchising order (released March 2007)
  • unreasonable barriers to entry
    • time limits
    • build out requirements
    • in kind payments to municipalities
    • PEG and I-Net requirements
The Current Landscape
  • Telcos are gaining advantages at the state level
    • 12 states have statewide video franchising systems
    • 5 more states have legislation on the table or hearings pending
      • Constantly in flux as lobbying efforts are succeeding
  • Massachusetts
    • House Bill 3385 (Senate Bill 1975)
    • Verizon’s Strategy
      • Lobbying at municipal level
      • 40 license agreements obtained
        • Plan on wiring (FiOS) only 67 of the 351 Massachusetts municipalities
What is Lobbying?
  • Corporate
  • Grassroots



*THE ISSUES

Below you will find some of the issues facing "Community Media." The issues discussed include: Build Out Requirements, Community Internet, Net Neutrality, PEG/Public Access TV & Video Franchising (Spring 2007).


All of the information regarding the issues was found on www.freepress.net.

*Build-Out Requirements

Central to the current debate over video franchising is the ugly problem of redlining — discrimination in the build-out of television and communications services. Franchise agreements are often used to make sure that cable TV and other broadband providers give everyone in the community access to communications networks. These so-called build-out requirements prevent powerful cable and telecom giants from skipping over certain neighborhoods.

The telephone companies are lobbying for streamlined entry into the video market, which they say will bring competition faster. But these same companies refuse to guarantee that they will build out service to every household in the community, as most cable companies have done for two decades. If they get their way, they will serve only who they want with no recourse at the local level for those negatively affected or left off the grid.

As legislatures consider telecom legislation, they must confront two key questions: How will companies be required, over time, to offer video and broadband across their current service territory? And if they are to be exempted from build-out requirements altogether, how can lawmakers possibly ensure that competitive broadband and cable services reach low-income and rural areas?

The best method to ensure that redlining doesn’t occur — and to bring video competition to every household — is to require franchise holders to build-out their services on a reasonable timetable. Build-out requirements are good public policy that will help bridge the digital divide and bring tomorrow’s technologies to everyone.

*Community Internet

High-speed Internet — also known as broadband — is becoming a crucial public necessity — just like water, gas or electricity. But far too many Americans are finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to afford the expensive service currently offered by cable and phone monopolies — or living in areas without any broadband access available.

Soon all media — TV, telephone, radio and the Web — will be delivered via the Internet over a broadband connection. New wireless and wired technologies allow local governments, public-private partnerships, schools and community groups to offer faster, cheaper and more reliable Internet service. Hundreds of communities across the country are now building their own wireless “Community Internet” systems.

The major barrier to establishing Community Internet is not technological or economic. It’s political. The big telephone and cable companies are using their lobbying clout in Washington and the state capitals to try to outlaw municipal broadband systems, prevent competition and undercut local control. More than a dozen states now have laws on the books restricting cities and towns from building their own high-speed Internet networks.

Instead, state laws should encourage the development of municipal systems, public-private partnerships and other alternatives that promise to bring the benefits of broadband to more people. New technology is making it possible for cities and towns to improve access to information, provide education and job training, enhance public safety, foster technological innovation, and bolster local economic development.

*Net Neutrality

When we log onto the Internet, we take a lot for granted. We assume we’ll be able to access any Web site we want, whenever we want, at the fastest speed — whether it’s a corporate or mom-and-pop site. We assume that we can use any service we like — watching online video, listening to podcasts, sending instant messages — anytime we choose.

What makes all these assumptions possible is Net Neutrality, the fundamental principle that has made the Internet an amazing environment for free speech, democratic participation and economic innovation. Put simply, Net Neutrality means no discrimination. It prevents Internet providers from speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination.

Net Neutrality has been part of the Internet since its inception. But as a consequence of a 2005 decision by the Federal Communications Commission, this longstanding protection against discrimination online was put in jeopardy. Now cable and telephone companies are pushing to block any federal legislation that would reinstate Net Neutrality and protect the free and open Internet. As these companies turn to the states for handouts and special favors, state legislators are growing concerned about protecting the free and open Internet.

The biggest cable and telephone companies want to decide which Web sites, services and applications go fast or slow. Small business and independent content providers who won’t (or can’t) pay a toll could see their sites slowed to a crawl. While big corporate sites ride in the fast lane on the information superhighway, the rest of us will be left behind on a winding dirt road.

The consequences of a world without Net Neutrality would be devastating. Innovation would be stifled, competition limited, and access to information restricted. Consumer choice and the free market would be sacrificed to the interests of a few corporate executives.

Learn more about net neutrality at SavetheInternet.com

*PEG/Public Access TV

Public, educational and governmental (PEG) access channels — one of the key benefits local communities get from franchise agreements — are also one of the only remaining media outlets that broadcast local voices, cover local issues, and show exactly how local governments work.

Public access channels encourage community residents to be more active participants in government and educational meetings by airing City Council and School Board meetings. They also allow programmers to target programming to reach particular segments of the community that might not be served by major outlets.

The federal Cable Act succinctly explains why PEG access is so important: “Public access channels are often the video equivalent of the speaker’s soap box or the electronic parallel to the printed leaflet. They provide groups and individuals who generally have not had access to the electronic media with the opportunity to become sources of information in the electronic marketplace of ideas.”

Advances in broadband technology could open up ways for local communities to create online content, with dozens if not hundreds of audio and video streams. Unfortunately, much of the legislation being proposed in statehouses threatens the existence of such a potentially powerful local medium. Our communities need more access to the media, not less.

*Video Franchising

Local communities have long had a say in the development of their communications infrastructure. In return for digging up city streets and using public rights-of-way to lay cables for television service, communities demand that cable and broadband providers pay a fair rent for using the land via “local franchise agreements.”

But many legislatures are now under pressure to streamline the franchising process at the state rather than local level. Cable rates are skyrocketing. Phone companies are clamoring to enter the TV business. Consumers should have a choice in the market for video, phone and Internet services, so the entry of a new competitor is welcome. But how many citizens will enjoy this competition? And under what terms?

The problem is that the big phone companies oppose the public interest requirements that always have gone hand-in-hand with franchise deals. Local authority over franchise agreements has brought many benefits to local communities, including public, educational and governmental access (PEG) channels; broadband access for government offices and schools; and requirements that service is offered to the entire community, not just its wealthiest neighborhoods. It’s crucial that any franchise agreements protect consumers and ensure affordable access to high-speed Internet and other services.

The debate over state franchising raises a number of important questions: Will new communications technologies answer to local communities? Or will local communities answer instead to the most powerful telecommunications and cable companies? Will there be agreements to provide public services? Will they be made at the local, state or national level? If consumers have problems with price-gouging or poor service, will they go to a local or state agency for help? As technological needs change, will local communities be able to obtain new technologies for public use? Will advanced services be available to the entire community?



*WHO CAN HELP?

Below you will find links that connect you to more in depth information concerning "Community Media." This information is broken down by National Organizations, Local Organizations, and Unexpected places to find common interests. In addition, you will also find a couple of useful guides to empower you (Spring 2007).


National Organizations
Alliance for Community Media
The Benton Foundation
Common Cause - Media & Democracy Coalition
National Association of Telecommunication Officers & Advisors (NATOA)

Local Organizations
ACME Boston
Free PressSave The Internet & Stop Big Media
MASS Access (Branch off of the Alliance)
Students Concerned About Mass Media (SCAMM)

Unexpected Places to find common interests
United Church of Christ (Media empowerment project)
United States Conference of Mayors

Astroturf

Guides:
The Beginners Guide To Media Reform
The Media Empowerment Organizing Manual



*GROUPS IN MORE DETAIL:


ALLIANCE FOR COMMUNITY MEDIA

Who Are They?
• A nonprofit, national membership organization founded in 1976, the Alliance represents over 3,000 Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access organizations and community media centers throughout the country. It also represents the interests of millions of people who, through their local religious, community and charitable groups, use PEG access to communicate with their memberships and the community as a whole.
• The Alliance for Community Media is committed to assuring everyone's access to electronic media. The Alliance advances this goal through public education, a progressive legislative and regulatory agenda, coalition building and grassroots organizing.

What do they do?
• Promote political, regulatory and industry support through advocacy, public relations and grassroots organizing.
• Facilitate networking and education among people and organizations involved with community media, primarily through its national and regional conventions, and various special interest groups (such as for trainers, volunteer producers, and government access centers).
• Support community media advocates with materials and information on community programming and national issues.
• Monitor developments in technology and applications and advocates for everyone's access to all forms of electronic media.

THE BENTON FOUNDATION

Who Are They?
• The Benton Foundation is a nonprofit organization set up by former U.S. Senator, William Benton and his wife, Helen Hemingway Benton. Its present chairman and CEO is their son, Charles Benton.
• The mission of the Benton Foundation is to articulate a public interest vision for the digital age and to demonstrate the value of communications for solving social problems.

What do they do?
• In recent years, the Foundation has been most famous for its championing of digital access and for demanding public responsibility by mass media.
• The Benton Foundation has pushed for a national broadband policy at the highest levels of U.S. government.
• It has also been pushing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to determine the public interest obligations of digital television broadcasters.
• Finally, it has sponsored studies that suggest that concentration of media ownership in a few hands is not in the interests of the United States.

COMMON CAUSE

Who are they?
• Common Cause is a U.S. nonpartisan lobbying group (both professionally on Capitol Hill and grassroots advocacy in the states). Common Cause was founded in 1970 by John William Gardner, who was the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson.
• Its mission is to, "strengthen public participation and faith in our institutions of self-government; to ensure that government and political processes serve the general interest, rather than special interests; to curb the excessive influence of money on government decisions and elections; to promote fair elections and high ethical standards for government officials; and to protect the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans."

What do they do?
Media & Democracy Coalition
• Common Cause spearheads and acts as fiscal sponsor for the Media and Democracy Coalition. According to its website, the coalition consists of 25 groups and is "committed to amplifying the voices of the public in shaping media and telecommunications policy."
• Common Cause is working to ensure that the media meet their obligations to serve the public by promoting diversity, accessibility, and accountability among media corporations and the government agencies that regulate the media. Our Media and Democracy program has four goals:
• Fighting media consolidation,
• Protecting and strengthening public broadcasting,
• Ensuring that the Internet remains a vibrant, open and competitive outlet for citizen discourse, and
• Developing and advancing a long-term agenda for a more democratic media.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF TELECOMMUNICATION OFFICERS & ADVISORS (NATOA)

Who are they?
• The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) is a national association that represents the communications needs and interests of local governments, and those who advise local governments.
• Our membership is predominately composed of local government agencies, local government staff and public officials, as well as consultants, attorneys, and engineers who consult local governments on their telecommunciations needs.
• The mission of NATOA is to support and serve the telecommunications interests and needs of local governments. We are a professional association made up of individuals and organizations responsible for -- or advising those responsible for -- telecommunications policies and services in local governments throughout the country.

What do they do?
• Their government members have responsibilities that range from cable administration, telecommunications franchising, rights-of-way management and governmental access programming to information technologies and INET planning and management. We have members from not-for-profit organizations whose needs and interests are complementary to those of NATOA's members and we have members who are vendors to local governments, and telecommunications providers of all types of services to and for local governments.

ACME BOSTON

Who are they?
• ACMEBoston is the Greater Boston Chapter of the Action Coalition for Media Education. ACMEBoston is an all-volunteer grassroots coalition of media educators, students, independent media makers, media and telecom policy reform advocates, and concerned citizens working to Create, Educate, and Mobilize for media and social change.
• ACMEBoston brings ACME’s unique approach to media education to Greater Boston involving people of all ages, from all backgrounds in linking media education with civic activism and engagement.

What do they do?

ACMEBoston’s three step approach:

1. CREATE - Using and sharing media production tools, skills, and knowledge to promote self-expression, artistic creation, and social change.

2. EDUCATE - Building a critical media literacy framework that questions, challenges, and creates alternatives to corporate media images and messages.

3. MOBILIZE - Public mobilization through civic engagement to create a more just, equitable, and representative media system and society.

FREE PRESSSave The Internet & Stop Big Media

Who Are They?
• Free Press is a national nonpartisan organization working to increase informed public participation in crucial media policy debates, and to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and noncommercial sector.

What do they do?
• Free Press is working with members of Congress to draft pro-active media reform legislation across a variety of issue areas. Free Press also works on policy measures with regulators like the Federal Communications Commission and at the state and local levels. Indeed, Free Press is working with international interests to democratize global media policymaking, and to represent the public interest in Washington where global media policy measures are being considered.

• Free Press also works to expand public awareness and involvement in media policymaking in the United States. We do this by reaching out to groups that are strongly affected by media but have not participated in media reform. Much of the work of Free Press involves grassroots organizing around the tangible reform proposals we develop in Washington. Free Press works very closely with other media reform organizations, listed on this website. Free Press is a collaborative organization, committed to making the whole of the media reform movement greater than the sum of its parts.

MASS ACCESS (Branch off of the Alliance)

Who Are They?
• We are a statewide organization that functions as a grassroots arm of the Alliance for Community Media, an international organization that promotes and protects access throughout the world. Started in 1990 as the Massachusetts Chapter for the Alliance for Community Media, MassAccess has been instrumental in linking access centers and individuals involved in access for the past decade. Our mission is to serve the needs of Massachusetts communities in developing community media centers for P.E.G. Access.

What do they do?
• Develop workshops, throughout the state on many topics. MassAccess has been doing this since 1997. These include Re-Franchising Questions, Copyright and Access, Production Workshops, and Ask the Lawyers session
• Provide assistance to access centers with start up questions, franchising issues, and general production and administrative questions.
• Produce a quarterly newsletter with articles about access television, new technology, and issues and problems that affect centers daily.
• Monitor legislation at the state level to make sure that Access remains a viable and healthy entity in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
• Organize efforts to keep our state legislators aware of what we do and why we do it.
• Support each other by keeping the access community connected and informed.

STUDENTS CONCERNED ABOUT MASS MEDIA (SCAMM)

Who Are They?
• based at Emerson College in Boston, MA is a student-run organization working to engage students, faculty and the community in important issues and debates facing our commercial-driven media system.
• Because a strong democracy demands an active citizenry, S.C.A.M.M. believes that public participation in media policy is essential to the health of our mass media and our democracy. Therefore, S.C.A.M.M. serves as a platform for students to participate in reform, through investigating and questioning media practices.

What do they do?
• S.C.A.M.M. provides opportunities, through forums, campus discussions and actions, for students to engage in a critical look at the media to ensure that a diversity of voices and points of view are accurately represented.

UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST (Media empowerment project)

Who Are They?
• Grows out of the United Church of Christ's historic commitment to civil rights in media advocacy. The project is grounded in the belief that struggles for social, racial and gender justice must address questions of media ownership, accountability and access in order to truly be effective.
• MEP has partnered with four diverse communities around the country. We are working with people of color, women and youth to help them think about how media could best serve their needs and advance their struggles for social justice.

What do they do?
• The Media Empowerment Project provides communities with the support and training needed to organize for meaningful, lasting change. Together with community organizers, we are documenting and publicizing these experiences to empower others around the country to take on the struggle for media justice.

UNITED STATES CONFERENCE OF MAYORS

Who Are They?
• The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are 1,139 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.

What do they do?
The primary roles of The U.S. Conference of Mayors are to
Promote the development of effective national urban/suburban policy;
• Strengthen federal-city relationships;
• Ensure that federal policy meets urban needs;
• Provide mayors with leadership and management tools; and
• Create a forum in which mayors can share ideas and information.

10 Point Plan Example:
• Mayors call for legislation to strengthen the federal-local partnership & further restrict the ability of congress to impose unfunded mandates or pre-empt local authorities.

Local Governments Ask Courts to Reverse FCC Ruling on Video Franchising
external image arrow_black.gif Press Release (4/3)