Money=TV=Votes but not Understanding

More money was spent this election than ever before- predictably, considering the pass the Supreme Court gave to corporations, unions and advocacy groups to flood the airwaves with propaganda. Karl Rove and his friends used this in a particularly masterly way, if you can admire evil genius. But there is no substance in 30-second ad spots. This is not a system that benefits Americans, liberal or conservative. It is not conducive to debate or discussion. It does not encourage action.

Most Americans do not realize that they own the airwaves. Those frequencies are used to transmit waves for your cell phones, radio, and tv enabling the freeflow of information, supposedly. These airwaves (also called ‘spectrum’) are part of our common wealth. The telecommunications companies would like you to believe they own them and that therefore they should make even more money from them by tacking on an additional charge for every internet transaction. That’s what the companies that oppose net neutrality would like you to believe. They say they deserve more money because they built out the infrastructure to deliver communications to people – you’d think they give it to people for free, but of course, we consumers know very well we are the ones paying monthly for the cable or telephone or internet service we use. The deal was and still is, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows these companies the free use of the people’s spectrum in exchange for their building of that infrastructure. In 1996, with a reworking of the Telecommunications Act, the deal was the telecoms would build out a fiber-optic network to deliver communications to every nook and cranny of our country. Now, in 2010, in many places this work has not even begun. In the stimulus package passed in Congress, there was a huge appropriations for telecoms to do this very job, again. Hmmm.

Another point. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, there was an understanding that a certain amount of time would be dedicated to candidates for free in each election. This public service mission has always been a component of asked of broadcasters in exchange for the people’s spectrum. If I remember correctly, it was 5 minutes per candidate during the last month before an election. This was the understanding but not enshrined in the law, apparently.

Nothing like this kind of public service has happened. Instead, our current system of campaign finance, wherein an estimated $4 billion was spent during the recent mid-terms, perpetuates the impossible debate-by-soundbite democracy that leads to such shallow national discourse.

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