Net Neutrality… This is the make or break issue of our generation much the same way the Telecom Act of 1996 was the make or break issue of the last generation..
Back in ’96, we heard all the same arguments being made by the corporate radio companies like Clear Channel that we are hearing from the telecoms like AT&T and Comcast. We heard people say that it was going to be better for the consumer. Radio companies made the case that if they were allowed to consolidate they would be able to diversify their content because there would be less competition. In other words they could have lots of niche stations that explored various genres of music because they wouldn’t be competing with other stations.
They also made the case that consolidation would be good for people of color because it would allow minority owners to better compete. The reason cited was that it would be easier for minority owners to sell ads when they had more than one station in a market vs one or two. Some of the larger stations came up with a scheme where they would help sell ads for small minority stations. This was done to get these small groups to go alone with the 96 Act. We now know back room deals were cut where small stations agreed not to adapt certain formats and be competition to the mega giant radio companies in the market. For example in LA the Black owned station would agree not to play too much Hip Hop or not go too deep into an oldies format.
Those minority owned stations that tried to tough it out were either brought out or smashed on. The most glaring case of this occurred in the Bay Area which is dominated by Clear Channel. When a small upstart station opened up in Oakland Power 92.7 FM they decided to fill a void and dwell deeper in the urban format. The first thing that happened was Clear Channel executives called the banks and tried to block the small station from getting financing.
Next my old boss Michael Martin sent out letters to the Black/urban departments of all the major labels threatening that if they supported this new station with servicing them new music, artist interviews or even station ID drops that he would see to it they would not get any airplay on the other Clear Channel properties in this part of the country. The same message went out to local Bay Area artist. Many were scared to come on board and help out for fear of long term, far reaching reprisals. Eventually the station was shut down with a former Clear Channel executive purchasing the station.
I would encourage folks to read this article called Fighting the Power (Upstart rap station Power 92.7 had its eyes on big, bad KMEL, but didn’t watch its back) written by fellow Bay Area journalist Eric Arnold. It gives you keen insight of what happens when consolidation in an industry we all engage is allowed to happen. Getting rid of Net Neutrality is the equivalent to media consolidation. Just like Clear Channel controls the airwaves as this article bares out, AT&T and Comcast will control the net.. Mark my words.
Back in 96, many of the corporate radio stations who were lobbying for consolidation approached some of the very same Civil Right leaders who the telecoms are approaching now. They promised them radio shows and syndication for shows that existed and assured us people of color would be more visible. President Bill Clinton also championed this bill for increased consolidation. The nations so-called ‘First Black President’ assured us this was needed in order for the Radio industry to grow…
Well since 96 what has grown? We know Clear Channel grew? We know Fox news grew. Meanwhile diversity and people’s satisfaction for radio has shrunk tremendously. By 2003 there were calls for boycotts against radio. The reason being was radio both White and Black owned were pushing a narrow corporate agenda and not responding to the widespread dissatisfaction people had with these outlets.
There were boycotts called for stations ranging from Hot 97 in NY to WJLB in Detroit to WGCI in Chicago to KUBE in Seattle to KMEL in San Francisco. etc. A tribunal addressing concerns about Urban radio in NY drew more than 2000 people to a church in Harlem where people launched blistering complaints for over 6 hours. People complained about the dumb down content, the same 10 songs being played day in and day out to lack of access for community voices and local artists. Many also complained about the increasing politically conservative ideals being pushed out. We saw news depertments shrink as consolidation meant that one person would handle duties over 3 or 4 different stations.
The FCC held hearings all over the country to standing room crowds when the industry attempted to get even more consolidation.. The radio companies made the claim that they needed to be allowed to own newspapers and more radio station in a market in order to grow.
Former FCC Chair Michael Powell
When I ran into FCC chair Michael Powell, at a Rainbow Push Conference in 2003, I told him about the tribunal that was held in Harlem the night before. His response was if people don’t like whats taking place on radio then they should go to the Internet. He felt the internet allowed for all those unhappy voices to be heard.
Fast forward to 2010, we now have the telecoms making the same claims as the radio giants from 13-14 years ago. We have some of the same ‘minority’ groups trying to curry favor with the telecoms just like they did with radio corps back in 96. We also have a public that finds the issue boring or extremely complicated just like in 96..If this Net Neutrality is allowed to be deaded on behalf of three telecom companies and the Civil Rights groups they been paying off, were gonna be moaning about the constrictions placed on the internet the same way we do radio.
Telecom firms’ donations to minority groups criticized as FCC considers net neutrality rules
Key minority organizations are backing the carriers’ efforts to thwart net neutrality proposals. Critics say the millions of dollars and in-kind help the firms pour into the groups is a factor.
By Jennifer Martinez, Los Angeles Times
Some leading minority advocacy groups long have supported AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and other major telecommunications firms in the industry’s efforts to win approvals for mergers, get rid of old regulations and avoid new government rules.
And the telecom firms, in turn, have poured millions of dollars of donations and in-kind services, including volunteer help from the carriers’ executive suites, into charitable groups in the communities they serve.
Consumer and public advocates used to whisper about the possibility of conflicts of interest, but now they are openly critical as the battle heats up over proposed federal regulations over net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers should not restrict content, programs and other uses on their networks.
Key minority groups are backing the carriers’ efforts to thwart the net neutrality proposals, which would, for instance, prohibit carriers from charging more to give some residential and corporate customers priority in delivering online content.
“When you give national civil rights groups millions of private dollars, there’s no firewall strong enough to keep that money out of their policy,” said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice.
Cyril and other consumer and public advocates have been buoyed by comments from Federal Communications Commission member Mignon L. Clyburn, a prominent African American and daughter of Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
She said in a speech in January that she was surprised that most statements and filings by “some of the leading groups representing people of color have been silent on this make-or-break issue” of net neutrality.