Susan Crawford: Country and FCC at Crisis Point

Even as broadcasters were preparing to celebrate their medium at their annual convention in Las Vegas, some 600 miles away, as the Boeing 747 flies, media activists were vowing to take it back, with Susan Crawford calling on the anti-consolidation faithful to use the next couple of weeks to let the White House know what they want in next FCC chair, including regulatory intervention in the broadcast and broadband markets.

Speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform, former Obama advisor and long shot for FCC chair Crawford echoed the criticisms of conference organizer Free Press that high-speed broadband has been deregulated to the detriment of the American public, particularly the poor and minorities; that globally the U.S. no more than middle of the pack in terms of making sure that "industrial policy that makes sure that everyone gets a reasonably-priced fiber to the home connection."

Crawford said that her new book, Captive Audience, is "really a recommendation to buy cable stock" because giant, consolidated cable--and phone--companies have succeeded into dividing up markets. She pointed to Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T.

She didn't have a lot of nice things to say about the current FCC, either. She said the country had "no federal plan for the future" and that the market lacked both competition and oversight. The FCC under Chairman Julius Genachowski has spent that past couple of years focused on what it thinks is a federal plan, the National Broadband Plan, which has included migrating phone subsidies to broadband.

Crawford said that the regulatory ideal that needs to be "recaptured" is that "regulation of infrastructure,government intervention, makes free markets and free speech possible."

She conceded that her name is a "problem" when people talk about possible replacements for FCC Chair Julius Genachowski--industry players suggest she would be a "nuclear" option because of her views on the evils of consolidation. But she suggested that it was more about the kind of chairman the country needs.

She said the next two weeks are crucial--the White House is expected by some within and outside the FCC to make adecision on a replacement for FCC Chair Julius Genachowski in the next several weeks. "right now - right now - Julius Genachowski has announced he's leaving and the president needs to decide what to do. He has to decide whether thisissue [consolidation] is important."

She said media activists need to ask for the following things in a chairman: 1. Push for preemption of state laws that block the creation of municipal fiber networks; 2. set a standard of 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband (both upstream and downstream) for everyone; and 3. a chair who will commit to that regulatory ideal that government intervention is needed to insure free speech and free markets. (In a blog posting following the speech, Randolph May, who heads the Free State Foundation, took issue with Crawford's assertion that government intervention is needed to protect free markets.)

In his speech to the conference, former FCC acting chair and veteran reform conference attendee Michael Copps, heading up Common Cause's media reform initiative, said people were saying "enough!" to media monopolies and "enough of the Federal Communications Commission blessing industry's cancerous monopolization of our news and information infrastructure!"

At the weekend conference, Free Press pushed an online petition to get the FCC to block News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch from buying the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.