Media and message

William Safire: "I scorn all polls except those that support my views. According to this week’s Pew Research poll about the FCC plan (to break the ownership barrier and permit media crossover), ‘By roughly 10 to one (70 percent to 6 percent), those who have heard a lot about the rules change say its impact will be negative.’ Nearly half of those polled had heard about this issue, despite conflicted media coverage."

Those are extraordinary numbers. Almost as extraordinary as a conservative like Bill Safire leading the charge for further regulation of media consolidation. Remember, what we’re talking about here is whether one company can own broadcast stations covering 45% of the country instad of 35%, and other similarly technical changes. And this is an era where over half of Americans use the Internet, and 85% get their TV through cable or satellite, which offer hundreds of channels.

Media consolidation is nothing new. From my perspective, any number of events such as the Microsoft anti-trust trial, the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Sony Bony Copyright Extension, broadband providers’ rejection of open access, the digital TV giveaway, and the previous round of media and telco mergers, were more significant. Yet the FCC’s latest action is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The important question is what comes next. There are efforts in Congress to roll back the FCC’s decision, which, much to my surprise, just might succeed. Yet going backwards to a 35% cap, or to the old days of heavily regulated yet heavily anti-competitive and anti-innovation monopolies isn’t a terribly exciting vision. I’ve focused increasing attention on decentralization generally and wireless spectrum specifically because it’s the one hope I see the possibility for truly game-changing developments that could get us out of this impasse. Specifically, an open wireless environment based on unlicensed spectrum could marry the open information channels everyone seems to want with the deregulatory, market-oriented policies we also want. If there were only a way to explain this without sounding too vague and technical for most audiences….