Top 10 reasons why we oppose the telecom bill [cr-95/10/10]


(This is my personal posting; I am not acting as moderator.  Please
excuse cross-postings.  I am posting to lists where these issues are
discussed regularly, and where I participate.)

Back on September 7, Coralee Whitcomb posted a request from Jamie Love
for a document with the title shown above.  I thought this was a good
idea, and decided to kick it off.  Now I need some fast feedback.

I figured I could create an effective structure for the document; now
I need the experts on this list to help me refine it (i.e., add the
facts).  I really don't understand the details of the telecom bills.
So the beginning of my statement below is strong (all rhetoric) while
it gets weaker and weaker as you go along.  I expect there are errors
in some sections.

Of course, too many details ruin the purpose, which is to create
something short and punchy that everyone on the Internet can
understand.  We need to tread a fine line in discussing exactly what's
wrong with the bill.

What goal should this have?  I say, to give the average reader all
the information he or she needs--without being boring--to write an
intelligent letter to Congress or the President.  A tall order...

Of course, I didn't find 10 problems.  If you went through the bills
clause by clause you could come up with hundreds.  Instead, I combined
the problems into four.

Please send me your ideas!  Hopefully with joint action we can put
together a document we can spread around with pride.

A minor note below: I've used the loaded word "monopoly" deliberately
instead of the more general word "concentration," to make people see
how serious the issue is.  That gives you an idea of the audience I'm
aiming for.



      Why the U.S. Telecom Bill Goes Against the Public Interest

Two major bills that will change the way we use telephones,
television, and electronic networks have been passed by the U.S. House
and Senate.  The bill is now in conference committee, so Congress will
soon vote on a merged version.

Currently, the bill that is emerging promotes industry growth (and
claims to promote technological progress as well) at the cost of
diversity and democracy.  It also set precedents that will be carried
out in other countries, so non-U.S. residents also have reason to care
what happens to it.

There are four major problems in the bill:

  1.  It censors public discussion on electronic networks.

  2.  It allows monopolies to form that could restrict the range of
      viewpoints seen by the public.

  3.  It allows gaps to widen between segments of society (rich and
      poor, educated and uneducated)

  4.  It lets rates rise too soon.

We will examine each of these problems, after some introductory

Why is the telecom bill important?

    Electronic media are not just another industry like shipping or
    manufacturing.  They deal with the stuff our minds are made of:
    the information we use to take political positions, the choices we
    have in educating ourselves, the cultural programs through which
    we define ourselves.  The struggle over electronic media is a
    struggle for our thoughts and actions.

    Electronic media cover a range of giant industries, including
    radio, broadcast and cable TV, telephone companies, wireless
    communications and satellites, computer networks, and traditional
    news and publishing companies that are moving online.  The
    category even touches on financial institutions and electrical

    The industries involved are eager to loosen restrictions that they
    claim are holding back innovation and technical advances.  They
    have poured large sums of money into influencing Congress, and
    lobbied intensively for the two current bills: The
    Telecommunications Competition and Deregulation Act of 1995 in the
    Senate (S. 652) and the Communications Act of 1995 in the House
    (H.R. 1555).  Unfortunately for the public, in removing these
    restrictions the telecom bills also remove historic protection for
    diversity of opinion and reasonable rates.

The intent of the telecom bill

    The stated purpose of telecom reform is to increase technology in
    homes and institutions.  While we definitely support an expansion
    of electronic networking (the information infrastructure or
    information superhighway, as it is often called) we ask, "What
    will it be used for?"

    We want to see telecom advances increase public debate on
    important issues, provide a wealth of culture, and increase our
    links with one another.

    Instead, we see this bill restricting options and opportunities.
    We call for increases in current safeguards for:

    1.  free speech

    2.  access by diverse groups to media where they can express their

    3.  protection against monopolies

    4.  reasonable rates either through robust competition or through
        continued regulation along current lines

    5.  the right of access by rural areas, the disabled, and others
        who might be left behind during the technological advance

    6.  access by schools and public service agencies

Problem 1.  The bill censors public discussion.

    Both the House and the Senate bills restrict a broad range of
    material that they consider to be harmful to children, such as
    sexual discussion.  Given the open nature of networks such as the
    Internet, restrictions on sending material to children end up
    keeping everyone from speaking freely.

    The telecom bills go beyond the restrictions that courts have
    allowed in traditional media such as newspapers and books.  We
    believe these clauses of the bills to be unconstitutional, but
    they can cause a lot of damage until and unless they are

Problem 2.  The bill allows monopolies to form that could restrict the
range of viewpoints seen by the public.

    The major feature of both bills is to loosen restrictions on
    companies entering each other's markets.  Notably, they allow
    local and long-distance telephone companies to compete, and
    telephone companies to compete with cable TV companies.  Mergers
    will result from this competition that could end up reducing the
    choice consumers have.  Although the bills provide measures to
    ensure fairness in pricing and the use of communications
    facilities, these measures are too weak.

    In a direct blow to diversity, the bills raise the percentage of
    national audience that a single person or company can reach from
    25% to 35%.

Problem 3.  The bill allows gaps to widen between segments of society
(rich and poor, educated and uneducated)

     The 1934 communications act guaranteed universal service, meaning
     that everyone in the country could get telephone service at
     reasonable rates.  The new bill contains protections for rural
     areas and the disabled, but leaves loopholes in the universal
     service guarantee for basic ("plain old") telephone service, and
     removes the guarantee altogether for new information services.
     Since the definition of universal service is limited to current
     technologies, it is highly likely that critical information
     services will be available only to affluent people in privileged

     Moreover, while there are some gestures toward supporting access
     for schools and public agencies, these are vague and lack

Problem 4.  The bill lets rates rise too soon.

     Cable TV rates are deregulated in the bills before there is
     adequate assurance of competition to keep the rates down.  And as
     mentioned under Problem 3, rats are not regulated for advanced
     information services.

What to do now

     Both versions of the telecom bill, S. 652 and H.R. 1555, give far
     too much to industry at the public expense.  Public interest
     groups have been lobbying hard for more protection of the values
     we described here.  But the bill moved so fast, and the
     representatives worked so closely with the industry lobbyists,
     that the public interest groups had little chance to make an

     Congress has to hear from you.  They need to know that this will
     not slide quietly through Congress like any other pork-barrel
     project, but that the eyes of the public are on them.

     Write to your own congresspeople, to the people on the joint
     committee, and to President Clinton.  Say that you oppose
     censorship, and that you want the guarantees against monopoly and
     high rates described here.  Familiarize yourself with how your
     representatives voted, and tell your friends and colleagues about
     it.  Let them know that this bill will affect them, and ask them
     to write too.  Contact your local newspaper and ask them to cover
     the bill.

     (List of congresspeople here.)

 Posted by Andrew Oram  - •••@••.••• - Moderator: CYBER-RIGHTS (CPSR)
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