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OccupyTelecom, Occupy the FCC: How the Communications Trust is Harming America’s Future

The telecom trust’s use of the FCC to raise your rates is a direct example of how corporate greed impacts each of us.

In light of Major Mike Bloomberg’s displacement of Liberty Plaza/Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign is spreading throughout the nation and the world. Most important, its critique of inequality is getting sharper and more systematic. Its core target has been the banking and financial-services industry, but activists are turning the spotlight on other, equally pernicious sectors of the economy, including the extraction, healthcare military and prison industries. Analyses of these industries reveal a common story: the fix is in.

The nation’s communications industry traditionally escapes critical inspection. In our busy postmodern life, communications, like air, water and electricity, is essential, merely taken for granted. Whether making a phone call, emailing a friend, accessing information, paying a bill or watching a political debate or TV show, our telecommunications infrastructure is a vital link to others and the world.

On October 27 the Federal Communications Commission announced a reform plan of the Universal Service Fund (USF) as part of its implementation of the National Broadband Plan. The reform is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, President Obama’s stimulus plan. Unfortunately, the USF reform plan is going to raise your phone, broadband, Internet and wireless rates in five new ways, all designed to give more money to the phone and cable companies.

Few have raised objections to the FCC’s effort and one can only ask why? The answer is that the “communications trust” -- AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other major telecom companies -- has taken control of the FCC, the agency that is suppose to “regulate” telecommunications and the media. The trust spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually buying off members of Congress, state legislatures and Public Service Commissions (PSCs), maintaining an army of influence peddlers and subsidizing numerous think-tanks, astroturf groups and nonprofit organizations.

OWS has put greed on the political agenda and exposed how pervasive it is throughout corporate America. The telecom trust’s use of the FCC to raise your communications rates is a direct pocketbook example of how corporate greed impacts each of us in subtle and not so subtle ways.

In order to stop the regulatory sham, Americans are urged to occupy the FCC and call for the breakup of the communications trust. On October 21, formerly striking Verizon workers and others picketed Verizon headquarters on West Street, then marched on a Verizon store on Broad Street and ended at OWS at Liberty Plaza. Now it's time to occupy the FCC as well as Verizon and the other companies that makeup the trust.  (For profiles of key trust companies, see “The Telecom Scam: 5 Behemoths That Strangle Innovation and Ensure You Pay Too Much for Bad Service,” AlterNet, November 11, 2011.)

Occupation works! Last year, enraged British taxpayers shut down Vodafone stores in England and Scotland and held demonstrations against the company in 10 cities. They were incensed that the company reportedly owed the government £6 billion in unpaid taxes; in the wake of the protests, it paid £1.25 billion. (Vodafone is part owner of Verizon Wireless.)

The universal slush fund

The Communications Act of 1926 established the original Federal Radio Commission that, in 1934, became the FCC. Repeatedly over the last 85 years, it has sought to strengthen corporate control and consolidation of both the telecommunications network (the “pipes”) and the media (the “content”).

The most disturbing illustration of this policy involves how the FCC, working with the post-Reagan deregulatory Congress, has put Ma Bell back together. A quarter-century ago, the old AT&T was formally broken up; today, two of AT&T’s seven offspring, the duopoly of AT&T and Verizon, control both the nation’s wireline and wireless services. Most egregious, in January 2011, it approved Comcast’s acquisition of NBC-Universal; a few weeks after the decision, a FCC commissioner, Meredith Attwell Baker, took a job with Comcast. However, in July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned an FCC effort to weaken cross-ownership rules that would allow big media companies to buy up even more local outlets.

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