FCC Chief Kevin Martin: Ignorant of Media History. Lesson # 1–Cable is a Community Communications System

Kevin Martin is the chair of one of the most powerful federal agencies–the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Martin’s first allegiance–as with most of the FCC’s chairs–is with the corporate media and telecommunications industries. Martin should be serving the public, working to ensure that the country’s electronic media system blossoms into a dynamic and diverse system of communications. But Martin’s worldview is shaped by the requirements of companies who will likely employ him in the future–and will need to be tapped for campaign contributions (like his predecessor Michael Powell, Martin is interested in elected office in the future).

Anyway, to the point. If Martin was aware of communications history in the U.S., he would have acknowledged that cable television is supposed to be a “community communications system.” That’s what cable’s promise was back in the 1960’s and 1970’s–and how cable policies evolved. (I won’t go into the details here, but do cover them in my book, out early Jan.). Martin helped further wreck cable’s potential to serve as a system designed to truly serve communities. He and his two GOP colleagues voted the other day to weaken the process protecting communities when they negotiate with electronic media giants. Now, phone companies–and soon cable–will be free to run its operations in communities without regard to the public interest.

Shame on Kevin Martin for helping AT&T, Verizon and others further dominate what should be regulated as a public trust–the nation’s broadband media system. But let this sad epsiode serve as a lesson. Next time the Senate considers a nominee to the FCC, let’s fight anyone who will place private corporate interests ahead of citizens, communities and the nation as a whole.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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