Telecommunications Devolution

There is a bill sitting on President Clinton's desk that will radically alter the media industry as we know it (sort of). It is the "Telecommunications Bill," and it proposes to repeal just about every restriction in the industry. Multinational Monitor reports "Current regulations prohibit one [television] company from owning more than 12 stations nationwide or from owning stations that reach more than 25 percent of the populations." In addition to these, there are rules that govern cable ownership and limits on multiple holdings in complimentary, non-competing media, i.e. television and print. In terms of the latter, the most egregious violation that comes to mind is Rupert Murdoch's purchase of the New York Post which violated FCC regulation for holdings within a single market; he also owns Fox television. In Murdoch's case, this regulation was costly and forced the media mogul to pay $5 million (for the soul of Newt Gingrich). In the end the pesky FCC was brushed aside, and within two years Newt was hitting the road on his book tour, sponsored, ahem, by Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins Publishers. For the cynic (whether from the right or left) the Telecommunications bill seems needless. If regulations aren't hindering media monopolies then why the big fuss about repealing them in name. (The conservative cynic would add that it is an unnecessary burden on companies, as the cost of Congressmen is sure to rise in the next year.) For the ideologues (from the right) or critics (from the left), the ramifications of this legislation are grave. The critics naturally lament the comodification of culture and dominance of corporate monothink where even "revolt" is a product (a quaint one, like "the sixties"). For the ideologue the prospect of "telco" freedom, is. . .well. . .rad. The November issue of Wired magazine includes a feature article on New Zealand's telecommunications industry which has been radically deregulated in the past ten years. The piece, titled "Godzone," describes a telecommunications elysian field, where information conglomerates frolic unfettered. (The text is superimposed on a photo of the country's beautiful rural expanse populated by docile sheep.) The country's is lovingly portrayed as an open playing field where any one (even Saddam Hussein if he wanted to, giggle, giggle) can start a radio station. In reality, however, New Zealand plays host to two telephone company's that have been fighting one another in the sandbox of legislation for over five years. The smaller, newer company has been unable to make any serious inroads into the market because the larger, more established company refuses to interconnect its existing (government-funded) network with it. What has emerged from this deregulated bucolia is a system of corporate barbarism, where one bully owns all access to the market and through legal muscle. . .keeps it. In describing "Godzone" author Bob Johnson cites Wired co-creator and MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte as an objective analyst: "This freedom from red tape, puts Godzone, so far ahead of the U.S., it is the mouse that roared." In the context of the article, this comment comes off as just one more hacker excited at the prospect of easier access to skate 'zines and digitized pictures of Debbie Does Dallas online. However, Negroponte (for all his affectation) makes a significant portion of his income speaking at conventions and "brain meetings" for the corporate elite of America. On a given evening, you might find him at the Waldorf Astoria lecturing an assemblage of Defense Contractors on the "transformative power of technology" that will "empower the creativity lobe of their employee base." As the contractors stare wide-eyed at this techno-bacchanalian with the funny sounding last name, it's easy to forget that he's wooing not only their hearts and minds, but also their business -- what better way to feel that transformative power than to advertise in Wired! Meanwhile, as Negroponte whips Westinghouse execs into a cyber-frenzy, the moguls gain a telecommunications soulmate: a powerful ally disguised as an objective analyst (note the MIT credentials) and whose sexy "street cred" (to borrow a sickening term from Wired ) is savvy pr. As Westinghouse is under FCC investigation for its purchase of CBS, such a connection to Negroponte is money in the bank. What's more, passing the Telecommunications bill will obviously pay large lobbying dividends to the Speaker of the House. By packaging the deregulation as radical, Gingrich also strengthens his image as lord of the cyber-right. But more important than both these elements, the bill tickles Newt right in his Third Wave. Newt envisions America as a Toffleresque sci-fi magic kingdom, where the principles of Disneyocracy will be taught to every child, at a very early age, via CD-ROM. Though couched in good ol' American rhetoric about Jeffersonian ideals, Newt's futurism looks much like Italy's fascist version of the 1909. An essay by Edward Castleton in the newest issue of The Baffler suggests that all this blather about "transformative technology" masks an entrenched power structure of industry moguls; that no matter how it's couched, Negroponte and Gingrich are basically agitating for the same thing--more power into the hands of media elites, while the masses sit comfortably numb in front of their telcom module. To this end, Third Wave technology serves as a potent tool. Castleton intones, "[in this new cyber world] the point is to ignore politics altogether in anodyne waves of profitable forgetfulness."Sidebar: Media SnacksFuck Me: Call your mother, the second issue of Fuck Me has just arrived. A wonderfully self-indulgent 'zine that seems completely concerned with what might be randomly inside its editor's head, the current issue includes provocative poetical and un-poetical musings on masturbation, buttholes, and Hellman's mayonnaise. The best part of it all is the layout: the background of each page consists of some object (rubber bands, hypodermic needles, strips of a burlap sack) copied onto the page. The text is then typed out in thin strips and re-copied onto that. The effect is strangely poignant, like the still life of a kitchen drawer. (Beau Sia, 75 3rd Ave #2104, NYC, 10003)Disney Watch: Jim Hightower, the irreverent Texan radio commentator whose show some have called the liberal Limbaugh, (although Hightower never seemed to have the same trouble with facts as his chubby counterpart) was kicked off the air by ABC after the Disney takeover in September. Predictably, the network cited poor ratings for its action, which is a bold faced lie as the show was quite successful. Hightower says its because he has always been critical of Disney. He's run repeated shows about Disney's loose interpretation history in its proposed Civil War theme park. He's also been extremely critical of the Telecommunications bill. At present he's self-syndicating his commentaries. Call your local radio station and ask that they run them.Dishing Dinesh: Amid the spate of newsweekly cover stories on race (kinda makes you nostalgic for The Bell Curve) Salim Muwakkil's piece on Dinesh D'Souza in the October 16 In These Times is invigorating. D'Souza, cover boy for the far-right ever since his debut as bigot extraordinaire at the Dartmouth Review, has written a book that accuses blacks of cultural inferiority. Muwakkil is a trenchant essayist, and sketches the controversy around the book by focusing on black conservatives Robert Woodson and Glenn Loury rather than predictable opponents from the left. Both oppose the work, however feel partly to blame for laying some of the intellectual groundwork in their own writings as fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (where D'Souza now resides). The piece is incredibly informative on critical intellectual issues that face black conservatives in the face of an absolutely appalling addition to cannon of racism in this country. (In These Times, 2040 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, 60647; itt@igc.apc.org)

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