rn: Better TV, open access debate


Jan Slakov

Date: Tue, 04 Jan 2000 16:55:23 -0500
From: Curtiss Priest <•••@••.•••>
Organization: Center for Information, Technology & Society
Subject: more about "better TV"

W. Curtiss Priest, Ph.D.
             Center for Information, Technology & Society
              466 Pleasant Street Melrose, MA  02176
   E-mail: •••@••.•••, Voice: 617-662-4044, FAX: 617-662-6882

              This document may be distributed freely

                          January 4, 1998

                         An Open Discussion
              with Government, Foundations, Non-profits
                       and Grassroots Efforts

                           CITS MEDIA WATCH

                          Public Issue #51:

                             "Better TV"


            Commentary by Dr. W. Curtiss Priest, Director:

A few years ago, many of us helped form the Telecommunications
Policy Rountable -- North East, and others, the Telecommunications
Roundtable in Washington.

We held forums (in the Boston area), talked with our Congressmen,
and supported SKER (Snowe, Kerrey, Exxon and Rockefeller) for
what has been called the e-rate.

And, in Section 706, there was a mandate for advanced 
telecommunications services (and the Alliance for Public
Technology -- www.apt.org) have worked with the FCC to
help assure that e-rate wasn't just "lifeline" services.

But the 1996 Telecom Reform Act was a deregulatory Act.
And to the extent that the freeing of the markets and real
competition brings lower prices and better services -- this
is in the public good.

But the market is driven in ways that do not fully capture
the values of the public.  In the end, the bottom-line is
profit -- and, as the history of the U.S. has shown, profit
and social values are often in conflict.

We witness the "Disneyfication" of American values.  We
witness many children (and adults) caught up in the hype of
product-sales-driven tie-ins -- movies connected to TV
coverage of movies and various MacDonald-like fanfare of
movie paraphernalia, action-toys, etc.

In parallel with this we are witnessing media conglomerates
such as General Electric and Viacom that compromise the ability
for both TV news and newspapers to critique the trend, as it
would be a form of political suicide because of the various
relationships (as a recent "Greater Boston" PBS show with
Emily Rooney, James Carroll, and Mark Jurkowitz (and others)
recently discussed in a November episode.)

What is interesting about Mark Lloyd's approach to "better TV"
is the coalition building with various nonprofits (listed below).

There is a true sense that WE could make a difference if we
only spoke up.

I am reminded of a favorite quotation by Richard Moore:

        Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful
        committed citizens can change the world,    
        indeed it's the only thing that ever has.   
                - Margaret Mead                     

The following text is from --

If it takes a village to raise a child, who shapes the village?
Increasingly the answer is the media, especially TV. We have, this
year, a real opportunity to change television for the better. It is
the first such opportunity in over sixty years, and it will not last

The nation is making a transition to Digital TV. More than just a wide
screen and pretty pictures, Digital TV will combine the variety of the
Internet and power of TV. In 1996 Congress gave broadcasters $70
billion dollars worth of public airwaves for digital television. Now,
in exchange for that gift, the Federal Communications Commission must
make set new guidelines for how broadcasters serve the public.
Finally, the public will have an opportunity to say how their local TV
stations should serve them. You'll find our recommendations below. We
must make the most of this moment before television makes the
transition to digital and becomes an even more powerful force in
American society. 

We invite you to take action and join People for Better TV. We are
parents and teachers and doctors and citizens. We understand that TV
has a major impact on our families and our communities. We think
Digital TV can bring us many benefits, but without the right sort of
guidelines it can also cause us real harm. We are urging action on
behalf of viewers. 

In exchange for free use of the public airwaves, we are asking for a
new deal to protect and advance the public good. This new deal should
be reasonable and enforceable. The hallmarks of that deal should be
fair representation of viewpoints, respect for children and families,
and accountability to local communities. Simply put in exchange for
the free use of the public airwaves broadcasters should serve the
public interest.

We represent millions of Americans, through dozens of organizations. 

Our steering committee includes:

American Academy of Pediatrics

Civil Rights Forum on Communications Policy

Communications Workers of America

Consumer Federation of America

League of United Latin American Citizens


National Association of the Deaf

National Council of Churches

National Organization for Women

Project on Media Ownership

You are not alone:

78% of Americans are concerned about sex and violence on television.

87% of Americans agree that ads during childrens television should be

87% of Americans think there should be an independent ratings system.

85% of Americans think broadcasters should provide services for the

80 % of Americans agree that broadcasters should provide more local


People for Better TV urges all Americans to get involved now. We are
not just consumers of TV, we own the airwaves. TV stations get a
license to use public property to make money, in return they are
obligated to serve the public good. Only the public can say what the
public good is. It has been over sixty years since the first
guidelines were established, it is now time to write those guidelines
again, and your thoughts are important.

Write a letter: Using the People for Better TV website write a letter
to the Federal Communications Commission. Tell them what you want from
TV in the future, and send a copy of your letter to Congress. You can
do all this in just a few minutes on the website, or if you like we
can send you sample letters and the information you need. 

Visit your local stations: You have a right to review the public
records and program logs of your local television stations. Call your
local station. Examine the TV program logs. Write to the FCC and tell
them that you want TV that represents you.

Form a local group: There are people in your state and neighborhood
who also want to take action. Contact People for Better TV for help in
getting your community organized. Call local leaders, including
teachers and ministers. Invite your friends over to watch a video and
talk about the impact of television.

Take a Stand: We know most Americans are concerned about the impact of
TV in the future, we=ve developed a set of recommendations we think
will make TV better. You can find them on our website, or just ask and
we=ll fax or mail them to you. And let us know what you think.

Become informed: For educational resources, updates, and more
information on taking action contact People for Better TV. See the
resources on our website: www.bettertv.org 

You can also email us at: •••@••.•••, 

or call us toll free at (888) 374-PBTV for more information. 

Our address is: 

People for Better TV 818 18th Street, NW Suite 505 Washington, D.C.
Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2000 10:18:48 -0500
From: Curtiss Priest <•••@••.•••>
Organization: Center for Information, Technology & Society
Subject: re:Boston Better TV meeting, this Tursday

Recently we circulated material about "People for
Better TV" -- see http://www.bettertv.org/

We have helped arrange for a Boston Regional meeting
here in Cambridge at MIT, Building 4, Room 146 from
11AM to 1PM.  Building 4 is at the end of the "infinite
cooridor" -- the beginning of that corridor is Bldg. 7
at the main, 77 Mass Ave. entrance.  We wish to thank
the MIT Communications Forum for helping arrange this
at the last minute.

The purpose of the meeting is to help us write the FCC
during this FCC comment period on the future of (digital)
television.  It is a rare opportunity to get opportunities
and concerns into the public record.

A map to the event is at:

Similar events in other cities are listed at:



Dr. Curtiss Priest
Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2000 10:14:29 -0500
From: Curtiss Priest <•••@••.•••>
Organization: Center for Information, Technology & Society
To: Barry Forbes <•••@••.•••>,
        Charlie Nesson <•••@••.•••>,
        David Thorburn <•••@••.•••>, Jeff Chester <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, COMMUNET" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Concerned Americans for Reforming the Economy" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Cyberspace Society" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Public library" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Renaissance Network" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Telecom Policy - NorthEast list" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List,Telecom Roundtable list" <•••@••.•••>,
        Marshalynne Seavers <•••@••.•••>,
        "Mary E. Hopper" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Consortium for School Networking" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, Electronic Conferencing" <•••@••.•••>,
        "List, RRE" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: The Open Access Debate

Please note that this transmission conforms to The Digital Millennium
           Copyright Act of 1998 (see below)

                W. Curtiss Priest, Ph.D.
          Center for Information, Technology & Society
           466 Pleasant Street Melrose, MA  02176
   E-mail: •••@••.•••, Voice: 617-662-4044, FAX: 617-662-6882

           This document may be distributed freely

                 January 7, 1998

                An Open Discussion
           with Government, Foundations, Non-profits
                 and Grassroots Efforts

                  CITS IT WATCH
             Information Technology Issues

                 Public Issue #53:

                    "Open Access"


         Commentary by Dr. W. Curtiss Priest, Director:

In the early days of telephone there were 100's of small telephone
companies throughout the first decade of 1900.

However, the economies of "scale" (size of a firm) and scope
(horizontal and vertical integration of a firm) gave AT&T the edge
as it gobbled up small firms (or put them out of business).

A few years ago, many pointed to the flourishing of "mom and pop"
ISPs as an indication that unfettered competition in telecom-
munications would not walk the inevitable road towards a monopoly.

However, recent events have raised serious doubts about the
possibility that many flowers will bloom, and, in its place,
we have a few tall standing sunflowers.


The current issue is whether cable modem subscribers can choose
their own ISP without having to pay twice for the option.

With a cable modem, the ISP (Internet Service Provider) is,
simultaneously, the cable operator's Internet infrastructure.

For cable providers to give "open access" -- i.e. -- to not
charge for the "Internet" part of the infrastructure (already
in place) and, rather, let an ISP provide the "service" is
somewhat redundant, but, for example, one's e-mail address can
remain the same.

The major corporate voice for "open access" has been AOL.

Why pay $19.95 a month, extra, to AOL, when AT&T through its
own ISPs (Excite@Home and Roadrunner), provide full Internet
access including instant messaging, e-mail, web, etc?

Yet, given AOL's continual growth, it is clear that they provide
added value services not found with other ISPs.


Enter Rep. Ed Markey.  Concerned about the monopolistic consequences
of AT&T's entry into cable, Markey writes (below) of the
significance of an agreement between AT&T and Mindspring --
to do something (unspecified) at some (unspecified) future date.

AT&T is clearly trying to have its cake and eat it too.  Aware
of the possibility that it may, soon, again, become a regulated
utility (deja the 1920's again) -- the agreement with Mindspring
is meant to diffuse the current criticism.

Not convinced that AT&T will, say, have a similar (and implemented)
agreement with -- say -- AOL -- Markey has "introduced a resolution
in Congress calling upon the Federal Communications Commission
to ensure open access for cable broadband consumers as a matter
of national policy."

But, the FCC (under Kennard) is politically in a very tenuous
position.  There have been many who question the need for the FCC
in a period of "full competition."

Can and will the Commissioners of the FCC hold back the mighty
force of the large players, to ensure true competition?  Or,
if this industry can, at the least, be an oligopoly -- what steps
can the FCC take to level the playing field.  The proviso in
the Reform Act that excludes the Baby Bells from providing long
distance until there was open access to the long distance
carriers was the clearest message on this role of the FCC.

Or, is the FCC in a "catch-22" position of trying to regulate
an "inevitable monopoly" under the guise of free competition as
called for in the 1996 Telecom Reform Act?  The framers of
the Reform Act expected cable to compete with AT&T -- not be
bought up by AT&T !

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Globe archives are available for a fee at www.bostonglobe.com

No chokeholds on the Internet

By Edward P. Markey, 1/7/2000

The recent announcement by AT&T Corp. that it would permit Mindspring,
an independent Internet service provider, to access consumers through
AT&T's cable broadband facilities is an important milestone in the
battle to safeguard consumer choice and an open Internet.

It may even be a ballot initiative in Massachusetts next year, so it
is not too early to begin discussing its importance. The result of the
so-called "open access" fight will help determine the prospects for
job growth, entrepreneurial opportunity, and innovation in the
Commonwealth's high-tech sector.

Massachusetts has much at stake in this debate. If AT&T, already the
largest cable operator in the nation, is permitted by the government
to consummate its purchase of MediaOne next year, AT&T would become
the state's largest cable provider, with more than 200 municipal

At its core, the debate about open access is about the nature of the
new economy itself. It is not solely a cyberspace spat over whether or
not consumers can enjoy open high-speed Internet access over cable
systems using the Internet service provider, or ISP, of their choice.
It's yet another important contest between would-be (or
"recovering") monopolists and the government-designed policy
framework that has been established to promote a greater
democratization of technology and entrepreneurial opportunity.

In the short term, if Massachusetts consumers are denied open access,
they will be deprived the full benefits of competition in terms of
price, innovation, service quality, and choice. In the long run,
however, the effect of allowing the cable industry to become
"broadband barons" is far worse. In the new economy, it is critical
that Massachusetts consumers, companies, and entrepreneurs have the
platform for innovation and choice that open access to the Internet
over cable broadband can provide. Without such a platform, independent
companies will be at a competitive disadvantage. This battle is
critical as Massachusetts continues its transition from our bricks and
mortar past to our clicks and mortar future.

Edward P. Markey is the ranking Democrat on the telecommunications
panel of the US House of Representatives.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 1/7/2000.  c
Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.
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