2010 was a seminal year for media consumers. We saw some big winners and big losers making changes that will be affecting us for a really long time.
LOSERS: Comcast, the nation’s largest cable and internet service provider (ISP) with unrestrained pricing power, announced this year its intention to merge with NBC Universal (NBCU). If the Comcast-NBCU merger succeeds, the anti-competitive media market deal will grant the new megamedia entity enough industry authority to be a two-way gatekeeper of your content. Sadly and simply, Comcast-NBCU will control your broadband internet access in addition to the access points of the pay-TV you subscribe to. According to public interest advocacy org Public Knowledge, Comcast cannot be trusted due to its history of blocking internet applications (BitTorrent), content (Xfinity online video), and media devices (Zoom Telephonics). In the world of digital rights, your rights are only as good as your freedom. No media competition = less freedom.
LOSERS: “Never say never.” A cliché that always comes back to bite you in the ass. Who would’ve thought I’d be defending Fox affiliates here in San Antonio? Not me. But back in 2009 when the DTV transition was upon us, we saw just how important local over-the-air broadcasting was to SA residents. A large percentage of city residents do not pay for their television services, yet still depend on local broadcasters for their media. The transition from analog to digital television was relatively easy for most people: for many a simple $40 HDTV antenna was all they needed to receive high-definition television. However, several neighborhoods in the Bexar County area, including the South to Southwest parts of San Antonio, were left in the dark with respect to the HDTV antenna. These consumers turned to Time Warner Cable, who reassured basic HDTV subscribers back in 2009 that they would provide a low-cost alternative to prevent in-home transmissions from being interrupted. Last week, Time Warner Cable ended “negotiations” with Sinclair Broadcast Group, the parent company of KABB Fox 29 San Antonio and CW 35. When negotiations faltered last month, Fox San Antonio announced their transmission over Time Warner Cable networks would cease at midnight of December 31. But over the holidays somebody had a change of heart, and a temporary agreement to extend transmissions for another two weeks was reached. If something more permanent doesn’t evolve, owners of Fox have agreed to provide Time Warner Cable customers with programming favorites such as Glee and House — but subscribers will not receive locally produced KABB Fox 29 programming.
WINNERS: Now for some good news. For over a decade, the Prometheus Radio Project has been fighting for historically disenfranchised and marginalized communities nationwide to expand community radio. “A town without a community radio station is like a town without a library,” said Pete Tridish of Prometheus in a press release issued in December. On December 18, history was made when the U.S. Senate finally passed the Local Community Radio Act after years of struggle. On December 29, the LCRA was presented to President Barack Obama for his signature. The legislation will expand low-power FM (LPFM) radio, a broadcasting service created by the FCC to address the shrinking diversity of voices on the radio.
“From Seattle, Oakland, and Albuquerque to Minneapolis, San Antonio, Kentucky, and Philadelphia, thousands of communities know that having access to our own slice of the dial means a tool to build our movements for justice,” said Betty Yu, coordinator of the Media Action Grassroots Network. “We have won something huge in Congress, but the fight is not over. Now we need to work at the FCC to make sure as many licenses as possible can be available in rural communities, towns and suburbs, and America’s cities.”
So now what? From here on out the FCC will be working on applications to push forward
licenses for LPFM radio stations. Look for these stations to be built everywhere, reaching from city neighborhoods to outlying rural areas. These new channels of communication will empower struggling music communities, grassroots organizations, and cultural hubs across the country, profoundly impacting the way local communities sustain and utilize local resources. •
San Antonio residents and media justice activists DeAnne Cuellar and Rebecca Ohnemus blog throughout the week at blogs.sacurrent.com. They welcome your questions and feedback and can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tech Tease on Twitter at @thetechtease.