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Tom – This organization has released a report called "Speedmatters: Affordable High Speed Internet for All." In this report they note that Americans pay more for much slower internet speeds that most other developed countries. For example, their report notes that “The top speed generally available in Japan is 51 mbps at a cost of $0.06 per 100 kbps. The top speed generally available in the U.S. is 6 mbps available at a cost of $0.72 per 100 kbps. In other words, the Japanese have 8.5 times the speed at 1/12 of the cost.”
Linda – What reasons does the report give for why the US is falling behind?
Tom – The report notes that the U.S. is virtually the only developed country in the world without a national plan to promote high speed internet. Also, the US government standard for what constitutes “high speed” internet is lower than what many other countries do. According to Speedmatters “The U.S. invests relatively less in telecommunications as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. Indeed, we rank behind South Korea, Great Britain, Spain, Canada, Japan, France and even Mexico.” They go on to note that this growing disparity may have a future negative effect on the US economy. To quote the report “A number of reports using forward-looking economic models have calculated that broadband would add $500 billion to GDP and 1.2 million additional jobs from the construction and use of a nationwide broadband network. Another paper warned that the failure to improve broadband performance could reduce U.S. productivity by one percentage point or more per year.”
Linda – What are other media critics saying on this issue of The US falling behind in broard band internet access?
Tom – Telecom industry watchers Bruce Kushnick and Tom Allibone of Teletruth a consumer advocacy group which has published an e-book, $200 Billion Broadband Scandal, fault the telephone companies for not fulfilling the promises they made in the 1990s to provide fiber-optic connections to households. According to their book, The Baby Bells made this promise as Congress was getting ready to pass the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act. In return, they received benefits - including tax breaks and changes in state laws lifting limits on their profits - amounting to more than $200 billion. But instead of building fiberoptic infrastructure, they spent money on more immediately profitable services like plain old copper-wire D.S.L. or cable, leaving the number of houses in the US served by fiber optic cable at zero.
Linda – Legislation was recently introduced in the House of Representatives concerning the turning off of analog TV signals in 2009. Tom, what’s the story here?
Tom - Legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives dealing with a number of educational efforts related to the Feb. 18, 2009, “hard date” for turning off analog television. The bill’s key provisions include requiring manufacturers and retailers to place labels on analog TVs. This would help ensure that consumers who are thinking of buying an analog television would understand that after Feb. 17, 2009, they will need to connect the television to a converter-box, or to cable or satellite service, to receive broadcast television signals. Another provision would require cable and satellite operators to include information in their bills notifying subscribers about the DTV transition and the digital-to-analog converter-box program. Another component would be to require the FCC to engage in educational outreach programs informing people in the change from analog to digital broadcasting.
Linda – What else should the public know about the transition from analog TV broadcasts to digital?
Tom - Digital television has several advantages over traditional TV, the most significant being better image quality and the use of a smaller channel bandwidth. This smaller channel bandwidth means that digital allows more channels to be broadcast over the same amount of the broadcasting spectrum than with analog technology. This of course raises some serious questions, primarily, who will given control over these new channels created by the implementation of digital broadcasting? According to the media reform group Freepress.org, Congress, as part of 1996 telecom act gave to the telecom industry unused frequencies that would become part of the digital broadcast spectrum, effectively a multi-billion dollar giveaway of the public airwaves to the broadcast industry. In exchange, the public was to receive digital television in a timely manner and broadcasters would give back the airwaves once used for “analog” broadcasting. Also, Congress granted broadcasters “flexible use” of this spectrum, meaning that the telecom companies need not just broadcast TV over these airwaves. They could broadcast a few non-high-definition offerings and rent leftover space to cellular phone companies, offer their own cellular service, or do something else entirely. At the same time, there have been almost no regulations put in place saying how the telecoms can use these public airwaves, despite the fact that theoretically, these companies are supposed to be using the airwaves to serve the public interest.
Linda - The president of a company that makes Video News Releases (VNRs) has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission describing an organization critical of his products as a “radically left wing anti-corporate group.”
Tom – Yes, the president of KEF Media Associates Inc, a PR firm has filled a complaint against the non-profit organization The Center for Media and Democracy” saying that CMD “continues to fallaciously charge that what we do is somehow dishonest and that stations airing our content are violating our rules,” KEF president Kevin Foley sent the e-mail to FCC Commissioners Robert M. McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate, but not to commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps, both of which have been very critical of the use of video news releases. The Commission accepted and publicly filed the comment on January 9th of this year.
Linda – What are Video News Releases, what is the FCC’s stand on them, and what has the Center for Media and Democracy been doing on this issue?
Tom – Video News releases, or VNR’s, are created by PR firms to look like news features, often extoling the virtues of some commercial product. In April of 2006 the CMD issued a study indicating that dozens of TV news stations have run VNRs without revealing that they are produced not by independent journalists, but by ad agencies. Since the study was released CMD has been running a campaign against undisclosed broadcasting of VNRs, calling it the “Stop fake news” campaign. The FCC has been investigating the claims laid out by the CMD report, but a a lobbying group to which KEF Media belongs, the National Association of Broadcast Communicators (NABC), defends this practice on a legal technicality—the Commission’s rules. The NABC claims that the commission rules don’t require sponsorship identification of all VNRs; only those that deal with controversial issues of public importance, politics, or when the VNR maker has paid the station to run the program. Foley defends his company saying that they “perform a perfectly legal and useful service, disseminating to TV newscasters information from America’s corporations, not-for-profits, charities, associations, the U.S. government, including the armed services, and many other groups.”
Linda – What has been the response of the FCC to this?
Tom –The FCC has yet to issue any formal decision on this controversy. In November of last year, CMD’s released a follow-up report called “Still Not the News” documenting more exaples of stations running unattributed VNR’s. This report prompted FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein to release a statement saying,“Some stations have developed such an ingrained pattern of running VNRs that even a direct investigation by the FCC isn’t enough to snap them out of it,” “Maybe some have run so many red lights it seems like the normal way to drive. It’s time to start handing out citations.”