Net Neutrality Debate Now Tainted by Scandal

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Net Neutrality is an important concept that internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon should not be awarded stranglehold power over what we see and post online. The internet belongs to all of us, social media managers, virtual assistants, content writers, everyone who posts or consumes content. In 2015, internet freedom groups and 3.7 million commenters won strong net neutrality rules from the Obama-era US Federal Communication Commission (FCC).

Now, the Trump-era FCC has surprisingly decided to let those same cable companies decide which websites and apps you use, where you get your news, how you listen to music and watch videos — pretty much everything you do on the internet.

Last week, Reuters news service reported, “Landmark U.S. ‘net neutrality’ rules will expire on June 11, and new regulations handing providers broad new power over how consumers can access the Internet will take effect, the Federal Communications Commission said on Thursday in setting the date.”

(This Reuters article and video will give you background details and bring you up to speed on all the ramifications of the issue.)

At face value, the change does not seem fair. It sounds as if someone is attempting to take away your freedom of speech!  

There will be protests nationwide on Monday, May 14th. Open air speech is still free. As is assembling in a public place. Here is how you can join one near you.

Again, from Reuters: “A group of 22 states led by New York and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect, and the U.S. Senate may vote as early as next week to reject the December repeal.”

In a free society, everyone is allowed to have an opinion. You can be for or against net neutrality. Fair is fair. But…

Essential Consultants Scandal

Along comes the scandal.

Michael Cohen. Essential Consultants. And possible influence peddling. What if money and not freedom of information is driving the FCC’s controversial decision?

Let me give you a little timeline on Cohen & Essential Consultants.

  1. Trump lawyer Michael Cohen created a shell company, Essential Consultants, on October 2016, just after the Access Hollywood video broke. (It is the tape released a month before the presidential election, that caught future President Donald J. Trump on a hot microphone in 2005, bragging about using his celebrity status to force himself on women to whom he was not married.)
  2. Cohen allegedly used Essential Consultants to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush money. (Conducted either with or without Trump’s knowledge and approval. The “jury” is still out on that.)
  3. A few weeks later, AT&T reportedly began issuing $50,000 monthly payments – $600,000 total – to Essential Consultants for Cohen’s insight on Trump’s thinking about net neutrality.

Last week, AT&T released a message to employees — obtained & published by POLITICO. It reads in part:

“Companies often hire consultants for these purposes, especially at the beginning of a new presidential administration, and we have done so in previous administrations, as well.”

Problem is, Cohen was not an independent consultant. He was Trump’s personal lawyer at the time. His fixer. His man of action.

Blatant influence-peddling? You decide. The Trump-era FCC did vote in a manner favoring AT&T.

We talk a lot about ROI in social media.

According to this article published in The Atlantic last week:

“If AT&T paid a monthly fee of $50,000, Essential Consultants would have received more money in the year than AT&T’s highest-paid lobbying firms, Mayer Brown and Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, which were paid $420,000 and $400,000 respectively. In 2017, AT&T paid 14 firms at least $200,000 to work Washington for the telecommunications giant.”

What if money and not freedom of information is driving the ultimate net neutrality decision?

The Senate is scheduled to vote this coming week on whether to overrule the FCC and save net neutrality.

Pro-net neutrality forces believe they are just one vote away from the 51 required to overrule the FCC; this new scandal could allow for a grassroots pressure movement to be mounted for a win.”

But time is short.

A website has been established to help you contact your US Senators and make your opinion known.

If an overwhelming voice of the people just saved a cancelled TV show (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which will move from Fox to NBC this fall), who knows what is possible? Even in the fantasyland of Washington D.C.

{Normally I would end with the above one/two punch of optimism and sarcasm. But, now I would ask: if net neutrality did not exist, would all those Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans have had the free and unfettered access to the internet to exercise their constitutionally mandated freedom of speech? To take advantage of their unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” as provided in the U.S. Declaration of Independence? Contact your US Senator, now!}

(And, thanks to Ira Andelman for research on the timeline and his devotion to this issue that motivated me to do this blog today)

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Has Big Brother Arrived at a TV Set in Your Home?

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Expecting to enjoy a pleasant Easter Sunday meal with family later in the day, I was served a gut-wrenching, distasteful appetizer of things to come when I checked my Twitter account this morning and found the now well-publicized Sinclair promo story.

At the outset, let me say I am politically an independent. Been so since I first signed up to vote over 40 years ago. Would have voted for JFK. Did vote for Reagan. I vote the party that speaks to the needs of the nation as I see it. OK?

So, I don’t give a damn if Sinclair is ultra-right or ultra-left. My concern is the humiliation and bastardization of local news by these barbarians at the gate of journalism.

Local stations should be free to cover and broadcast news and issues by and for the local community.

Right thinking will be rewarded, wrong thinking punished – George Orwell
Resistance is futile – The Borg
Corporate infringement on local journalism – apparent Sinclair manifesto 

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, wrote: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both.” He felt a free press was an essential part of a democratic society— that it enabled people to make informed choices.

Seems to have worked over the past 240 years.

Now Sinclair wants to create a Hive Mind.  Resistance is futile.

Or is it?

TV stations operate pursuant to broadcasting licenses granted by the FCC. This means individual stations are subject to renewal process with the FCC. When renewal applications (FCC Form 303-S) are pending, petitions to deny license renewals can be filed by interested parties in the community.

These renewal applications are due on a staggered basis, depending upon the state in which the station is licensed.  Before the FCC can renew a station’s license, it must first determine whether the licensee has served the public interest during the preceding license term.

This is how Sinclair was described last year during its move to gobble up Tribune Media (from Docket Number: MB Docket 17-179, FCC)

Pursuant to a merger agreement, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (Sinclair) and Tribune Media Company (Tribute) have filed applications seeking Commission consent to transfer control of Tribune’s full-power broadcast televisions stations, low-power television stations, and TV translator stations to Sinclair.
According to the Applicants, Sinclair owns or operates 173 broadcast television stations, consisting of 528 channels, in 81 markets, with affiliations with all major networks, and is the largest local news provider in the country; Tribune owns or operates 42 broadcast television stations in 33 markets, also with affiliations with all major networks. Tribune also owns cable network WGN America, digital multicast network Antenna TV and WGN-Radio.
According to the Applicants, Tribune’s owns and operates broadcast television stations in the top three markets in the country, seven stations in the top ten markets, and 34 stations in the top 50 markets.
The Applicants claim that under the proposed transaction, the combined company would reach 72 percent of U.S. television households and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group.

Being force fed a “Right thinking will be rewarded, wrong thinking punished” political ideology upon a supposedly objective news team is contradictory to the tenants of an unfettered press and the needs of a local community to make informed choices.

Do you have a Sinclair outlet in your community? Here is a list.