We don’t think it’s time for half-measures or a narrow focus when it comes to principles to govern and shape our digital media system. It’s time for real action, going beyond the current focus on network neutrality and media ownership of broadcasting. Access to broadband–its connections and much of its content– is a “civil right” in this century. The emerging digital mediums (PC, mobile, IPTV) should be positioned squarely within the public interest. That means a thorough over-hauling of the nation’s communications policies, to put real people first in the digital era. Access to broadband for low-income and poor Americans should be free (or as cheap as a fast-food burger). The notion of “affordable”–as it states in various proposals–doesn’t really say anything. It’s time we declared that access to broadband in the home is a Right. Broadband should be envisoned and regulated as a public utility serving the needs of our democracy.
While fighting for network neutrality is important, I don’t believe it will fundamentally change the nature of the emerging digital landscape. It will be commercialized and consolidated, thanks in part to the efforts of the companies now supporting (even if half-heartedly for some) network neutrality. Commercial competition has its limits, although it’s important to strive for. But to ensure the Internet in the U.S. better fulfill its public interest potential, it will take more than commercial nondiscrimination. We will require a government and privately funded digital media “Marshall” plan to help create a vibrant and diverse public sphere. There will need to be a system of both non-commercial and for-profit services which place the civic, cultural, and community interests of the public before concerns over generating maximum financial returns for a few. One area requiring attention is to ensure that civic-related content have unfettered access to all devices–PC’s, TV’s, and mobile.
Hey folks, let’s be bold in what we ask for (especially since this Congress, and probably the next, won’t really do anything!). But we should set the marker; make it high and hold our selves proud. It’s not the time to play it safe.
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