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in Filmmaking
on Nov 29, 2008

In Filmmaker‘s Summer issue we ran David Rosen’s “The Next Telecom War,” which argued that net neutrality debates are distracting us from the real goal of infrastructure common carriage. Now, Rosen has contributed to “What Now for Broadband and the Telecoms,” posted on the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard’s Nieman Watchdog site. Bruce Kushnick’s article poses a series of relevant questions regarding broadband and telco policy to the incoming Obama administration:

Q. Will you set the goal of broadband access at 1 gigabit in every American home?

Q. Why aren’t telecom subsidies being directed to cover much-needed infrastructure improvements?

Q. What steps should be taken to democratize the FCC’s decision-making process?

Q. Will you re-introduce and implement the parts of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that promote competition?

Q. Is it time to break up AT&T again? And Verizon, as well?

For those who have read “Creative Destruction” in the current issue of Filmmaker (it is excerpted at the link but the full version that contains the relevant passages to net neutrality is only available in the print or digital edition of the magazine), these questions will resonate as they cut to the heart of what Ira Deutchman and Ted Hope talked about in the piece. Check out the piece at Nieman Watchdog, which begins like this:

Telecommunications reform needs to be on President-elect Obama’s agenda and that of the 111th Congress. It is a key aspect of overall infrastructure renewal and will impact the future of the nation’s economic prosperity, educational system and its role in an increasingly globalized world.

January 1, 2008, marks the 25th anniversary of the breakup of the old AT&T after a successful Department of Justice antitrust suit during the Reagan administration. AT&T was broken up because a then-upstart, MCI, wanted to compete to offer long distance service and AT&T did everything in its power to block competition. The case, initiated by the Ford Administration and pursued under Jimmy Carter, showed how the government could help foster fair competition in the telecommunications industry. But thanks to deregulation in the 1990s, we now live in an age of mega-telecoms, including a reconstituted AT&T.

The results have been damaging to Americans—and widely ignored by the traditional news media. The U.S. share of worldwide Internet traffic has shrunk over the last decade from 70 percent to 25 percent. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks the U.S. 15th out of 30 leading industrial nations in per capita broadband use. And Americans are getting poorer broadband telecommunications services—lower bandwidth—and paying more than citizens in most other advanced industrial countries.

Corporate control over the broadband agenda in Washington, D.C., and the state capitals has let mergers go unchecked. A few mega-telecoms now control local service, long distance, Internet connectivity (ISP services), broadband (DSL) and the wireless spectrum. Competition no longer exists for wireline phone service and will likely soon shrink for wireless service. Charges to consumers continue to rise even as costs to providers continue to drop.

Just as there is a need for the re-regulation of America’s financial system in light of the current mortgage and banking crisis, a meaningful strategy is also needed for telecommunications.

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