Time for a bold public interest media/telecom agenda

-by Jeff Chester, Digital Destiny

We hope readers will look at Matt Stoller’s blog and his important piece entitled “On Building a Progressive Governing Coalition Around Net Neutrality.” It should be a part of a much larger debate about what should be done—at this critical juncture with our digital media system—to ensure that it truly serves democracy. We believe that there now must be a major push—in Congress and the marketplace–to advance a comprehensive agenda that will:

• require broadband content non-discrimination
• invest in digital content services designed to foster news and public affairs
• invest and support digital media services owned by women, persons of color, and low-income Americans
• “save” newspaper journalism through changes in tax laws, SEC rules, and via new policies encouraging employee and non-profit ownership
• expand “universal service” so that everyone who cannot afford it receives free residential broadband service
• open up Internet-connected cell phone/mobile platforms (the “deck”) and digital cable and satellite services to all broadband content (in other words, ensure network neutrality gets content wherever the Net is—not just on PC’s)
• foster the development of financially sustainable and diverse Web 2.0 social networks which build communities of interest that can help organize for a more equitable society
• enact privacy and interactive advertising safeguards so that we aren’t digitally “shadowed” online from marketers and government. This will also act as a check against the stealth machinery promoting consumption that has been placed throughout our digital environment. [We know more must be added to this draft digital media agenda].

In the next few months, it will be important for all the groups and individuals concerned about the U.S. media system to come together and foster a serious plan and strategy. One reason why some groups haven’t focused on the emerging threat to democracy in the digital era [such as the loss of broadband content and network non-discrimination due to cable/telco lobbying the Bush FCC] is that advocates [including myself] haven’t made the case well enough about what the alternative vision can be. It should be a broadband content system that truly reflects U.S. diversity—and strives to promote the artistic, cultural, political, and even spiritual aspects of a just society. I envision such a system everywhere—a diverse “digiplex” of dedicated and inter-networked public interest Web 2.0 sites in cities, state capitals and nationally. It would offer a range of programming and community-connecting efforts on cell phones, digital TV, and PC’s that would help challenge the status quo. If such services now existed in the Gulf Coast region, for example, there would be more powerful voices offering video and other programming that holds the country and political leaders accountable for failing to effectively rebuild. It would be run—and better represent—those Gulf Coast residents who today do not own any major media outlet (namely, most people). I believe that such services could also generate revenues that would help pay for the programming and organizing which must be done.

One approach to some of this is to propose federal legislation–the Community Digital Diversity and Civic Engagement Act–that would provide some of the necessary funds and the equitable access policies. It would build upon the good work already being done by community cable, low power radio, citizen journalists, newspaper unions and many others. It’s time, frankly, that policy advocates looked beyond broadcast ownership: a new world has already dawned. A number of my proposals require a marketplace intervention that would explore business models for sustainability, so there’s a role for public interest minded funders here. We will be turning more to this topic in the New Year. Let’s have a serious debate, build and embrace allies, and work as hard as we can to make the necessary changes.

article originally published at http://www.democraticmedia.org/jcblog/?p=137.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey