Saturday, June 23, 2007

Report Revealing Talk Radio Bias Touches Nerve on the Right

Originally published at Huffington Post

A study released on Wednesday by Free Press and the Center for American Progress lays bare what is obvious to many: Talk radio is a chorus of right-wing voices.

"The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" found that 91 percent of weekday talk formats are given over to right-wing programming. No surprise, really, but good to have further evidence.

What's more revealing is the report's discovery that radio's absence of real fairness and balance is a byproduct of problems in the way federal regulators dole out access to our public airwaves.

Big media lobbyists have struck a cozy bargain with allies on the Federal Communications Commission to gut ownership limits that protect localism, diversity and competition on the airwaves. For their part, the FCC has shown almost complete disregard for the public interest requirements written into broadcasters' licenses.

It's the Structure, Stupid

Here's the rub. The lack of ownership diversity spawned by this structural failure at the FCC is perhaps the single most potent ingredient in the often caustic right-wing tilt of the radio dial.

Free Press analyzed all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations to find that stations owned by women, minorities or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows. But stations controlled by group owners -- those with more than three stations in a single market or that own stations in multiple towns -- were statistically more likely to air conservative talk.

"Off the Dial," a Free Press report released earlier this month, revealed a dismally low level of minority ownership of radio stations in America. While racial or ethnic minorities account for one-third of the U.S. population, they own just 7.7 percent of all commercial broadcast radio stations. (Women, who make up half the population, own less than 6 percent of full-power stations.)

The Free Press report also found that no minority-owned stations aired "Imus in the Morning" at the time of its cancellation. Moreover, minority-owned stations and minority-owned talk and news format stations were significantly less likely to air "The Rush Limbaugh Show."

Taken together, the stark findings raise legitimate concerns about whether the companies licensed to broadcast over the public airwaves are serving the listening needs and interests of all Americans.

Right-Wing Knees Jerk


Malkin: Spreading fear over the facts

The reports' authors recommend ways to bring more voices to talk radio. They conclude we need to restore caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations and ensure greater local accountability for broadcast license holders.

The policy proposals are in no way a call for censorship or the removal of any voice from the airwaves. On the contrary, they would result in more localized and diverse types of programming. Their aim is to restore the pact between broadcasters and their listeners: In exchange for licenses worth billions of dollars, you will address the concerns of the community across which your radio signals are beamed.

This simple prescription for more diverse, democratic and accountable radio programming has set off a firestorm among the more rabid wing of the conservative blogosphere.

The release of the report over at was flooded by nearly 4,000 comments, most from the angry right. Their near total failure to address the substance of the report was matched only by the shrillness of their comments.

The hyperventilating pundit Michelle Malkin, who's known the world over for routinely getting things wrong, joined many of her colleagues in mis-characterizing the report and its authors as calling for the Fairness Doctrine to be restored.

In reality, they never argue for a return of the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters devote airtime to important and controversial issues and provide contrasting views on these issues. The report specifically states that the Fairness Doctrine "was never, by itself, an effective tool to ensure the fair discussion of important issues."

More Voices a Rallying Cry for Everyone

The report has clearly touched a raw nerve among these folks. Perhaps their attack is prompted more out of fear than anger. Fear of a media system that better reflects the diversity of the Americans it's supposed to serve -- and one that is less of an echo chamber for those that now control what millions of people hear when they scan the dial.

"Our goal is not less speech, it's more speech," said Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press and co-author of the report. "We want more voices on the radio."

Isn't conservatism all about localism? What could be more local than radio programming that's rooted in the community?

This sort of independence and diversity in the media should be a rallying cry for true conservatives and not cause for division and alarm.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

FCC Commissioner Takes Brave Stand for Open Access

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has taken a stand for open access to our airwaves as the federal agency prepares to announce rules for the upcoming “700 auction.”

The move paves the way for better, more open and affordable access to the Internet for tens of millions of Americans. It’s now up to the remaining four commissioners to follow Adelstein’s strong lead.


Adelstein Leads the Way

"We need to identify meaningful spectrum on which to establish an open-access environment," Adelstein told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. "This will open these key airwaves to badly needed competition.

Momentum Builds for Open Access

The commissioner joins other prominent politicians and decision makers, including presidential candidate John Edwards and Sen. John Kerry, who are joining the call for more open, neutral and competitive Internet marketplace in America

The outcome of the auction and ultimate use of these new airwaves have revolutionary consequences. This valuable slice of airwaves could beam cheap, high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace, and home in America. It could deliver essential wireless services to communities that have been overlooked by the cable and phone incumbents, which control high-speed Internet access for more than 96 percent of residential American users.

While rules governing this valuable slice of spectrum are complex, the issue captured the attention of more than a quarter-million Americans who earlier this month called on the FCC to open these airwaves.

Ending the Spectrum Swindle

For too long spectrum use has been the byproduct of back channel maneuvering between powerful industry lobbyists and government officials.

Dominant phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon, seem intent on hording this valuable asset. If their actions at earlier spectrum auctions are any guide, they will seek to team up against bidding by new entrants and stifle competitive and cheaper alternatives to their overpriced services.

The FCC must determine that the sale of spectrum be structured to foster new entrants in an Internet access marketplace that lacks real consumer choice and competitive pricing. Open, neutral access is the answer.

Members of the Coalition — including Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Free Press — have urged the FCC to ensure that the upcoming auction sets aside at least half of the available spectrum for “open networks.”

In addition, more than 40 leading technologists, wireless innovators, civic organizations and others sent a joint letter to the FCC calling for a sizable portion of the airwaves to be licensed on an “open access” basis to usher more competition into the marketplace.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Accepting the Webby

Timothy Karr Tim KarrHere I accept the 2007 Webby Award for the best activism Web site,, earlier this month.

As some may know the Webby Awards only allow five-word acceptance speeches.

Ironically, the sponsor of the award category was long-time foe Verizon Communications.

My five words: "Verizon Doesn't Own the Internet"

That's Rob Corddry over my right shoulder. He laughed. The crowd cheered for about three seconds. They wouldn't let me take the trophy home.

Momentum Builds for 'Open Access' to the Airwaves

Originally published on Huffington Post

Members of the Congress on Thursday came out for "open access" during a Senate hearing on the auction of the "700 megahertz band."

While rules governing this valuable slice of spectrum are complex, the issue captured the attention of more than a quarter-million Americans who last week called on the FCC to use these airwaves to create more open, neutral and affordable Internet access.

Net Revolt

Opening the Airwaves Now a Public Concern

The licensing of our airwaves should be publicly debated. For too long spectrum use has been the byproduct of back channel maneuvering between powerful broadcast and telecommunications lobbyists and government officials.

The FCC's Choice

Today's Commerce Committee hearing provided hopeful evidence of a shift towards more transparency and accountability. During the hearing, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) stated, "open access proposals and innovative bidding rules must be closely considered" before the FCC sets rules that will guide the sell off of our airwaves.

>> Read Sen. Kerry's guest blog post at

The FCC faces a critical choice for the future of the Internet. The auction is a chance to ensure that all Americans have access to high-speed Internet. The current business model – a marketplace dominated by cable and phone companies -- has failed. We need open networks to better foster new entrants and innovation while driving down costs to consumers.

The 700 MHz band could beam high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace and home in America. Cable and phone companies would rather the FCC allows then to rig the spectrum auction so that they can scoop up licenses and continue to dominate Internet access.

Why Verizon Wants Closed Access

Verizon executive vice president Dick Lynch attempted to scare Senators off the idea, telling them today that "saddling the auction with open access and Net Neutrality obligations would reduce interest" among businesses interested in leasing our airwaves.

His concerns are clear if not directly stated. The only ones who stand to lose from opening the network to new competitors are phone and cable companies like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast -- the same companies, by the way, that exert near monopoly control over access for more than 96 percent of residential broadband users.

"Open access" principles make the network available on a wholesale basis to new entrants, services and applications. We would all benefit from a marketplace that is freed of gatekeeper controls.

>> For more on how gatekeepers stifle innovation, read Dr. Amol Sarva's Senate testimony

The Momentum Shift

At the hearing today, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) called the auction a "revolution of the communications landscape." Sen. Kerry's statements followed his editorial yesterday in The Hill urging the FCC to "establish auction rules that maximize the likelihood of innovation and ease competitive entry."

Last month, presidential candidate John Edwards called on the FCC to "seize the chance to transform the Internet and the future" by requiring that half of the soon-to-be-available public airwaves be reserved for open access.

And last week, a group of more than 40 leading technologists, wireless innovators, civic organizations and others sent a joint letter to the FCC calling for a sizable portion of the airwaves to be licensed on an "open access" basis to usher more competition into the marketplace.

Members of the Coalition -- including Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Public Knowledge and Free Press -- have also urged the FCC to ensure that the upcoming auction sets aside at least half of the available spectrum for "open networks." Last week, more than 250,000 members of Civic Action, Free Press and Working Assets Wireless, alongside other concerned citizens, contacted the FCC with similar concerns.

In the midst of all the details, lobbying and testimony, we can't lose sight of why this auction matters. This may be our best opportunity to ensure universal, affordable Internet for everyone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sen. Kerry: Open the Airwaves for a Better Internet

Originally published at Huffington Post

Sen. John Kerry joined the broad public movement for a better wireless Internet today when he urged the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that our airwaves be used to make the Internet "more competitive, affordable and widespread."

Sen. Kerry

Sen. Kerry: Don't Let Them Hoard the Airwaves

Last week, the FCC was flooded with more than a quarter-million letters from people who urged the agency to use soon-to-be-available public airwaves to connect more Americans to an open, neutral and accessible Internet.

In a June 12 letter delivered to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Kerry wrote: "Competition [in America] has been insufficient to drive the innovation that brings faster speeds, next generation applications and a richer, diverse and multifaceted Internet."

Our Chance to Catch the World

In the letter, Senator Kerry cited recent reports showing the United States has fallen behind much of the world in broadband penetration.

"Nearly 60% of the country does not subscribe to broadband service -- in large measure because it is either unavailable or unaffordable," Kerry wrote. "The 700 MHz auction could put this country one step closer to achieving ubiquitous Internet access throughout America."

Cheaper and Faster

Cheaper and Faster: An ad in Spain touting 20 megabits per second at 6 Euros ($8.02) a month

The failure of broadband services in the United States is due to a marketplace failure -- where phone and cable companies provide access to more than 96% of residential high-speed Internet users.

"For years, we have heard that a third technology would emerge to compete head-to-head with DSL and cable modem," Kerry wrote. "It has not yet materialized, and today Americans pay as much as 10 times more than broadband consumers in Asia and Europe. Worse still, competition has been insufficient to drive the innovation that brings faster speeds, next generation application and a richer, diverse and multifaceted Internet."

An Open and Neutral Alternative

As the FCC considers rules to govern the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction, members have called upon the agency to set aside at least half of the available spectrum for open and nondiscriminatory Internet access.

This will guarantee new wireless innovators have the opportunity to enter the market in head-to-head competition with the big phone and cable companies.

Used correctly, these public airwaves could beam high-speed Internet signals to every park bench, schoolroom, workplace and home in America. Incumbent phone and cable companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast want to lock in their market dominance by hoarding spectrum and stifling cheaper alternatives to their networks.

The FCC: Choosing Between Telcos and the Public Interest

The FCC can either decide to open these airwaves to new competitors and innovation or let them be squandered by the same companies that now monopolize access.

The agency must create conditions that will foster a cheaper, more widespread alternative, Kerry wrote to Martin. "We cannot allow this spectrum to be hoarded by large companies who don't intend to use it, which stifles innovation and the growth of competitive networks."

"Dramatically expanding wireless broadband may not be the silver bullet that solves all of our broadband challenges," he added. "But it will certainly be a big step in the right direction."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Big Ed: Gone But Not Forgotten

AT&T chief Ed Whitacre handed the keys over to his replacement Randall Stephenson yesterday, but not before giving a rousing pep talk to fellow executives in the company's San Antonio board room. We just received "exclusive" video of the AT&T chairman's parting speech.

>> Watch Big Ed's Swan Song

Ed Whitacre Bids Fond Farewell:

Watch the Video

"There's a problem. It's called Net Neutrality," Whitacre told the heirs to AT&T's telecommunications empire. "Well, frankly, we say to hell with that. We're gonna put up some toll booths and start charging admission."

This statement echoes those made in the press by Whitacre and Stephenson over the last two years.

Despite claims of poverty whenever pressed to offer better services, these AT&T execs are privately gloating over more than $35 billion in gross profits over the last 12 months. Moreover, Whitacre (and now Stephenson) are pressuring Congress to allow them to provide privileged Web access to their customers to companies that pay them a special fee.

The phone and cable companies claim that this sort of discriminatory “double dipping” — charging both consumers and content providers — is necessary to provide the high-speed services that Americans demand. But it's a fundamental shift in the neutral way the Internet has always worked. In essence, it takes away user choice — the most basic tenet of the Internet -- and hands it to AT&T.

"Will Congress let us do it?" Whitacre asks his colleagues. "You bet they will -- cuz we don't call it cashin' in. We call it 'deregulation.' "

'Deregulation': AT&T Code for More Handouts

It's Whitacre's brand of "deregulation" that has left the United States behind other nations in providing fast, affordable Internet to more people.

Recent broadband data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) had the U.S. slipping to 15th out of 30 nations in per capita broadband use. Our free-fall will continue as long as we allow phone and cable companies to dictate broadband policy in Washington and monopolize broadband access across the country.

From his high perch atop AT&T, Whitacre's view of the Internet had more to do with plumping up margins than delivering faster, more open and affordable services to more Americans. He understood that to dominate new media, AT&T needed to exploit its control of this "last mile" of broadband access into tens of millions of American homes. To get there, he was more than willing to scrap the fundamental principle that had made the Internet a beacon for free speech and economic innovation.

Such corporate brinksmanship, however, didn't sit well with those of us who actually use the Internet to connect with others. (Whitacre reportedly had no computer on his desk and tasked his secretary to check his email). Whitacre probably never expected he'd collide with a new but resilient foe -- engaged Internet users -- and ignite a brushfire that would forever alter the debate about the future of the Internet.

Igniting the Netroots

For speaking out about his scheme to control the Web, Whitcare can be credited for forging a forceful opposition to business as usual in Washington policymaking. His words galvanized the first groups that would forge an alliance around the issue of Net Neutrality.

By the summer of 2006, hundreds of groups from across the political spectrum had joined. More than 1.5 million online activists signed a petition to Congress, and thousands of bloggers took up the cause. This unlikely alliance, in the words of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), instilled the "fear of voters" in the hearts of Washington politicians.

Yet even now, Whitacre remains intent to defy public opinion, funnel cash into Washington and win over control of the Internet once and for all.

"With all of our generous campaign contributions, I'm quite certain that Congress will see it our way," he said during his farewell speech. "Who else they gonna listen to? The public?!?"

Fortunately for everyone else, the public is making itself heard. Just yesterday we flooded the FCC with more than a quarter-million comments demanding that our airwaves be made available for a more open, ubiquitous and cheap Internet. We also called on the federal agency to keep this valuable new resource out of the hands of price-gouging phone and cable companies like AT&T.

Thousands more are telling their stories to the FCC, taking action to ensure that phone and cable companies do not block, interfere with or discriminate against any lawful Internet traffic.

The stories are still pouring in as more people take this issue to heart, demanding that we create a faster, affordable, more democratic Internet for everyone and stop one of the country's most powerful corporate lobbies from setting the agenda in Washington.