The FCC man and the bloggers

A Washington bureaucrat begs liberal bloggers to take heed of latest machinations at the Federal Communications Commission.

Published August 2, 2007 11:31PM (EDT)

CHICAGO -- Political movements know they have arrived when Washington bureaucrats come begging for support. Michael Copps, one of two Democrats who sit on the Federal Communications Commission, came here today to address the YearlyKos Convention, a three-day gathering of about 1,500 bloggers and liberal activists. But his address was less a lecture than a call to action. "The country needs you, it needs a free press, it needs the Netroots community, it needs everyone you can bring along and fight like your future depends on it," he said.

He was talking about what he said were the twin threats to freedom of expression in America, the consolidation of old media ownership and attempts by telecom companies to take control of how online content flows through broadband connections. The two problems, he said, were one and the same.

"For a while, you know a lot of folks thought the Internet was the antidote to media consolidation, that it would take care of media consolidation. But the truth is that the Internet is heading down the very same road that media has gone down. The more concentrated that the ownership of distribution becomes the more power the network operators have.

"Network consolidators in media and the network consolidators in broadband are both talking about the same thing, fusing conduit and content, content and distribution. By controlling both, they can keep competing voices out with very far-reaching consequences for our economy, for our culture, for entertainment, for the credibility of our news, for the vitality of our civic dialogue, for the future of our democracy. So even if you rarely watch TV or read a newspaper, even if you wouldn't shed a tear if old media somehow disappeared tomorrow morning, I hope you will see that these phenomenon are really blood related."

In the coming months, the FCC will revisit media ownership rules that the Bush administration first tried to pass in 2003, but were later tossed out by both the courts and Congress. At the same time, a fight rages in Congress over so-called Net neutrality, which would prohibit telecommunications companies from giving preference to certain content that is delivered over broadband.

Neither issue gets much attention, but Copps, a balding former assistant secretary of commerce, has a way of turning incredibly complex bureaucratic rule makings into morality plays. "The way you win, the only way you win, is to take this story not just to Capitol Hill but all across America," he said. "Talk about it, write about it, blog about it. If you can sing, sing about it."

The ballroom crowd of roughly 200 offered its applause.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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