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Coalition urges open discussions on telecommunications bill

Sept. 16, 2005
Coalition urges to Congress to hold public hearings and listen to the needs of citizens, not just media industry heavyweights
WASHINGTON — A coalition of media reform, consumer and public interest groups — representing millions of Americans across the country — issued the following statement in response to a draft telecommunications bill circulated by the House on Thursday:
The introduction of a House discussion draft of a telecommunications reform bill should be the first step in an open and transparent legislative process that involves the public in meaningful ways.
Telecommunications policy affects every American family in ways that determine their access to information, how much they pay for it, and even the quality and diversity of that information.
The undersigned groups, representing millions of Americans throughout the country, believe that Congress must hold public hearings throughout the U.S. and seriously listen to the needs and priorities of citizens.
Telecommunications legislation has for too long been negotiated behind closed doors with key industry heavyweights and major media conglomerates, which spend hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign contributions and lobbying in Washington.
The last major telecommunications bill enacted in 1996 largely reflected their priorities, and did not respond to the needs of the public. Since then, cable rates surged by more than 50 percent, local phone rates went up by 20 percent, and scores of media companies merged, denying consumers choice and competition, and depriving our democracy of diverse viewpoints. These mistakes should not be repeated. (See the Common Cause report, “The Fallout from the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Unintended Consequences and Lessons Learned .”)
As it begins consideration of telecommunications reform legislation, Congress should make telecommunications policy based on a number of core values:
Equal access, regardless of race, income, ethnicity or location, to affordable, advanced telecommunications technologies;
The importance of ensuring that franchising agreements protect consumers, extend the benefits of competition to underserved communities, provide adequate compensation to local governments for use of public resources, provide for public access media, and flexibly address community needs;
The right of local governments to use broadband technology to serve their residents, particularly those with low incomes or in rural areas;
Enforceable guarantees that network owners will not interfere with content transmitted over the network or discriminate against any device, application or program run on the network;
Enforceable guarantees that unaffiliated, independent video programmers will have access to video platforms;
Locally owned, independent media outlets that provide a diversity of viewpoints;
Expanded allocation of valuable public airwaves for shared, open use by local communities, commercial innovators and individual citizens.
In the coming days and weeks, we will be pressing Congress on all these and related issues. The public can no longer be ignored in this crucial policy debate.

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Ben Scott, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x23
Jeannine Kenney, Consumers Union, (202) 462-6262
Celia Wexler, Common Cause, (202) 833-1200
Jeff Chester, CDD, (202) 494-7100
Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x23
Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME)
Alliance for Community Media
Benton Foundation
CCTV Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Creative Voices in Media
Center for Digital Democracy
Chicago Media Action
Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting
Common Cause
Consumer Federation of America
Consumers Union
Free Press
Future of Music Coalition
Media Access Project
Media Alliance
Media Tank
National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
New America Foundation
Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc
Reclaim the Media
U.S. Public Interest Research Group