Friday, February 27, 2015

The FCC embraces its New Deal roots and helps the Internet move away from unrestrained greed

(Seal of the FCC, image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was created by the Communications Act of 1934 "with the blessings of President Franklin D. Roosevelt" ("Federal Communications Commission," The Museum of Broadcast Communications). However, according to Dr. Susan L. Brinson, professor of mass communication at Auburn University, it wasn't until 1939 that the agency acquired its true New Deal sea legs. During that year, Larry Fly was appointed FCC Chair. Fly was a "tenacious and devout New Dealer" who began to transform the FCC into an aggressive regulator, and aimed to "diminish the concentrated monopolistic power that controlled the broadcasting industry and simultaneously encourage competition." This new direction, of course, "startled and angered the broadcasting industry and their politically conservative defenders in Congress." (The Red Scare, Politics, and the Federal Communications Commission, 1941-1960, pp. 25-28, 2004)

The FCC has an extraordinarily complex history, but let's fast-forward to today, a time where telecommunications companies frequently have monopolistic control over markets and where Americans are paying more money for slower Internet service than residents of other developed countries. The big news, as we have all heard by now, is that the FCC has come down in favor of net neutrality, thereby wresting some power away from the telecommunications companies and giving it to consumers. Can there be any doubt, that if the FCC had not supported net neutrality, telecommunications companies would have eventually put all non-wealthy Internet customers in the slow lane and all wealthy Internet customers in the fast lane? I mean, that's what Corporate America does, that's its modus operandi. Steak & shrimp dinners for wealthy executives and investors, and bread crumbs & mush for everyone else.

(FCC Chairman Larry Fly, third from left, and other officials around a new television, in 1939. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

As their counterparts did back in the day, the telecommunications industry and their "politically conservative defenders in Congress" are whining, moaning, wringing their hands, and predicting the end of the world. The political right, more generally, has been engaging in their usual conspiracy theories for a while now--in this case, blathering on about "Obamanet," losing national sovereignty, and how net neutrality will turn us all into socialists. In other words, the usual stoking of fear in order to convince Americans that it's best to give complete decision-making power to millionaires & billionaires, democracy be damned. Fortunately, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler highlighted the obvious, "The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules" ("Net Neutrality Prevails In Historic FCC Vote," Huffington Post, February 26, 2015).

Chairman Wheeler is embracing his agency's New Deal roots--roots of courage and strength in the face of organized money. Let's hope he continues to do so, as the fight is surely not over yet.

(For a good summary of the net neutrality issue, see "What the FCC's New Neutrality Ruling Means For You," Huffington Post, February 26, 2015)  

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