cross-posted from Dembloggers and A Faerie’s Farthing

Okay, people.  We need to heed Christy’s words and light ’em up.  It looks like the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE Act) is due for a vote in the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.  Christy has all the Senators’ contact info, as well as the great coverage of Misener and McCurry.

We all know what’s at stake here; I won’t bore you with any details.  Suffice it to say if you want to continue enjoying the pond and the rest of the wild and wacky internets, you need to call.  And get everybody else to call.  If you need that extra incentive, Ted Stevens sits on this committee.

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What you may not realize (I didn’t) is that America has been here before; this fight is nothing new.
Once again, history repeats.

Beginning in the Progressive Era, there was extensive criticism of the reactionary political trajectory of the commercialized and concentrated newspaper industry, but there was little sense that any change was possible (5).

Such was not the case with radio broadcasting which emerged in dramatic fashion between 1920 and 1922.  If only due to the physical scarcity in the number of channels available, it was recognized by all comers that the federal government would have to determine who, among the plethora of contenders, would be permitted to broadcast and, conversely, who would not.

…This opposition, which I term the “broadcast reform movement,” existed for less than a decade but played a central role in the debates over how best to structure U.S. broadcasting in the early 1930s.  Although crushed unmercifully by commercial broadcasters, these reformers generated an impressive critique of the limitations of an oligopolized, capitalistic media industry for the communication requirements  of  a democratic society, a critique which has aged very well.

Aged very well, if at all – if specific dates and “radio” weren’t in there, McChesney could just as well be writing about net neutrality today.  There’s a lot to be gleaned following the fight over allocation of radio airwaves.

The networks were the big winners.  Thirty-seven of the forty clear channel stations went to network-affiliated stations.  By the early 1930s, NBC and CBS affiliated stations accounted for seventy percent of U.S. broadcasting when hours broadcast and power levels are factored in (13).  Advertising went from non-existence on a national basis in 1927 to the point where the networks accrued $72 million by 1934 (14).  The other side of the coin was reflected in the equally dramatic decline of the non-profit broadcasting sector, from well over one hundred stations in 1927 to less than one-third that total by the early 1930s.  Moreover, almost all of these stations operated with low power on shared frequencies.  By 1934 non-profit broadcasting accounted for only two percent of U.S. broadcast time (15).  For most Americans it effectively did not exist.  The FRC defended its practice of showing preference in granting licenses to commercial broadcasters unequivocally in its Third Annual Report (16).

In 1930, a coalition of national education organizations organized as the National Committee on Education by Radio to keep the airwaves accessible to public broadcasting.  The group’s leader, Joy Elmer Morgan, had this to say:

Private monopoly in industry is bad enough; monopoly in the agencies which control the distribution of ideas is infinitely worse.  It strikes at the very roots of free democratic government.

That is no understatement – and given the broader scope and power of the internets, the stakes are that much higher.  Please, call the Senate Commerce Committee.  If they give you guff about not being a constituent, just remind them that you don’t get to choose your Senator’s committee assignments and can’t help the fact that you are not directly represented on this committee.  But as the Senate Commerce Committee’s ruling do not only affect the sitting Senators’ respective states, you are making your opinions known.  It is YOUR Senate Commerce Committee, no matter what they might say.

If you haven’t checked it out already, Save the Internet has lots of info for sharing, as well as graphics for your webpage to spread the word.  And now, for something completely different, John Perry Barlow channels a bit of Mr. Joy Elmer Morgan, God rest his soul:

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.

You have not engaged in our great and gathering conversation, nor did you create the wealth of our marketplaces. You do not know our culture, our ethics, or the unwritten codes that already provide our society more order than could be obtained by any of your impositions.

You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract . This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.

Cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live.

We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.

We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.

Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.

Our identities have no bodies, so, unlike you, we cannot obtain order by physical coercion. We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge . Our identities may be distributed across many of your jurisdictions. The only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule. We hope we will be able to build our particular solutions on that basis. But we cannot accept the solutions you are attempting to impose.

In the United States, you have today created a law, the Telecommunications Reform Act, which repudiates your own Constitution and insults the dreams of Jefferson, Washington, Mill, Madison, DeToqueville, and Brandeis. These dreams must now be born anew in us.

You are terrified of your own children, since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.

In China, Germany, France, Russia, Singapore, Italy and the United States, you are trying to ward off the virus of liberty by erecting guard posts at the frontiers of Cyberspace. These may keep out the contagion for a small time, but they will not work in a world that will soon be blanketed in bit-bearing media.

Your increasingly obsolete information industries would perpetuate themselves by proposing laws, in America and elsewhere, that claim to own speech itself throughout the world. These laws would declare ideas to be another industrial product, no more noble than pig iron. In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish.

These increasingly hostile and colonial measures place us in the same position as those previous lovers of freedom and self-determination who had to reject the authorities of distant, uninformed powers. We must declare our virtual selves immune to your sovereignty, even as we continue to consent to your rule over our bodies. We will spread ourselves across the Planet so that no one can arrest our thoughts.

We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.

Davos, Switzerland

February 8, 1996

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