Stop Monopolizing Our Internet - 7/12/2014

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Stop Monopolizing Our Internet: The Future of the Internet and Mass Media Mergers

These are notes from a Net Neutrality panel discussion held at SCATV, Somerville MA, on July 12, 2014.


Panelists

Charles Clemons, Touch 106.1 FM
Lolita Kelsey, Boston Neighborhood Network

Moderator

Noe Kamelamela, Mass. Pirate Party


Citizen-produced media is critically important. Community access gives everyone a voice, and allows for a more diverse representation of views. We're petitioning our representative to vote in favor of low-power FM (LP-FM). This sort of thing strengthens communities, and gives people a voice. We gathered enough signatures to make this a ballot question in November.

LP-FM licenses are free, but rarely available. The FCC hasn't offered them since 2006. In 2006, the FCC didn't publicize the availability of licenses. LP-FM stations are limited to 100 watts, which translates into a 3.5 mile reach.

Touch FM broadcasts on the internet, in addition to a terrestrial LP-FM station. Priority access to broadband internet would hinder Touch's internet broadcast. Touch FM's terrestrial audience was larger than our internet audience; the terrestrial audience was more localized and community-based. Our goal is to inspire, inform, and educate our community. The corporate media isn't meeting this need in our community.

We operated our LP-FM station without a license. The FCC wasn't issuing licenses, and we wanted to serve our community. The FCC gave us a $17,000 find for doing this, and seized our studio equipment. The government doesn't work for the people; they work for the corporate interests.

BNN is the Boston Neighborhood Network. Community access can bring news perspectives that aren't represented by the corporate media. Touch 106 FM is the fabric of our community. Many people in our community don't have internet access, and losing the terrestrial signal affected them.

Without paid cable, you don't have access to municipal stations - city council, board of selectmen meetings, and so fourth. This is another way that access is taken away from communities. This sort of thing happens to all communities, not just black communities.

The corporate media spins news stories, often such that people who were there wouldn't recognize the event. The corporate media expresses many negative views, and promotes low self-esteem in certain communities. BNN tries to uplift people in the community. We try to spin things in a positive way, and we try to bring people together.

Lots of things negatively affect our communities, such as the prison-industrial complex, and the lack of job opportunities. We've gone from a system of slavery to a system of prisons. Many companies benefit from cheap prison labor. This is slavery, paid for by your tax dollars.

Internet fast lanes would hurt local access television. We wouldn't be able to afford the fast lane. We could create all the content we want, but we'd have no way to distribute it. Internet access should be free, just like public libraries. Some countries provide free internet access. That's the way to go.

Internet broadcasts can be shut down. On-air signals are harder to shut down.

What about corporatized spaces, like Facebook? Corporate spaces and search engines have too much control over what we see. They're more about marketing than freedom of information. The system makes us feel like things are free, but they're really not. Do you really think that corporate America wants you to be educated, and know what's going on in the world?

Radio will continue to drive media.

Not everyone has internet access. Not classifying broadband providers as common carriers codifies this unfairness.

Boston removed civics from public schools 25 years ago. Now, we have a generation that never really learned about civic engagement. This is a human-created problem, and it can be solved by citizens.

Local media highlights diversity, which is one of the important assets of our community.

Five words I say every day: "pray, create, adapt, improvise, overcome".

One April 17th, touch FM's LP-FM station was raided by the FCC. We believe we were raided because of the content of our broadcasts, rather than our lack of a license. The Prometheus Radio Project asked me to speak to congress about LP-FM. The FCC uses claims of interference as a scare tactic, to get LP-FM stations to voluntarily shut down. The FCC commissioned MITRE to do a study on LP-FM interference, and MITRE found no evidence of interference. (See http://lpfmradio.org/low-power-fm-radio-economic-study-no-impact/, http://www.current.org/tech/tech0314lpfm.html, and http://www.prometheusradio.org/Low_Power_High_Intensity_QandA).

You'll either stand for something, or you'll fall for anything.


Question: Are there people working on creating municipal internet access?

They have municipal internet in Lafayette, LA and Chattanooga, TN. South Korea has much faster internet access (than the United States), and at a much lower cost. In Lafayette and Chattanooga, the cost is lower and the service is better than you'd get with commercial providers. The internet is too important to be left to for-profit corporations. It's just like health care and water. Broadband companies work very hard to fight municipal internet.

Somerville developed a plan for municipal wireless in 2007. The 2008 recession caused this plan to be shelved. The plan would have created 15 municipal wireless access points for less than $1M dollars.

People should be very concerned over the ownership of TV, the internet, and radio. The internet originated with, and was developed by the US government. It should be free.

Question: The internet tends to be very user-driven, but radio is driven by the availability of wireless spectrum. The wireless spectrum is a finite resource, and the FCC tends to allocate it to incumbent corporate entities. What guidance would you give the FCC for spectrum allocation?

The answer is simple. If you have too many applicants, then share the time. Grant the frequency to several applicants, and let them collaborate on sharing the schedule.

In our communities, there's no problem with our voices being heard too much - we don't have a community radio station!

In mesh networks, private citizens operate their own wireless transmitters; it's a very decentralized system. Mesh networking has done well in some areas, like Athens, Greece. It's still very experimental in the United States. How does the FCC affect mesh network operators?

Mesh networks use the ISM band. This band is for Industry, Scientific, and Medical applications. It's dedicated to unlicensed users, for applications that are unlikely to cause interference.

Comment: My comment is about limited access to the broadcast spectrum. Technology has allowed us to get more data into the available spectrum. For example, we have HDTV and HD radio. Nearly all of this new bandwidth has gone to corporations. It hasn't led to an increase in citizen broadcasting. The internet should be public, like the highway system. We need to re-think our approach to media distribution.

Question: Copyright takedowns are a common type of corporate antic. For example, suppose you put up a video of your kids birthday party, and there's some music playing in the background. ACME record corporation, who owns the publishing to that music, can issue a takedown notice. Have takedown notices been a problem for community media? If you're involved in community media, how can you avoid these kinds of problems?

BNN tries to use music with a public domain license. 70% of the music on Touch FM comes from local artists, so we haven't had a problem with takedown notices.

Comment: People need to work together, think outside the box, and start to take back resources that began with us. It's a lot of struggle, but we can get somewhere over the long run.