==================================================== ################ ############# ################ ## # ## ############# ## ### # ### ### # # # ## # ### ### ## # # # # # # # # ## # # # # ## ## # ## # # # ## ## ## # # ### # ## # # # # # # # ## # ## # # # # ## ### ### ### ### # # # ## # ### # ==================================================== Free Speech Media, LLC Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility December 22, 1995 Number 20 ==================================================== Compiled, written, and edited by Coralee Whitcomb Please direct comments and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. ==================================================== For more information on Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, please write CPSR@CPSR.ORG or call 415-322-3778. ==================================================== The Telecom Post is posted to several distribution lists and is also available from the CPSR listserv. To subscribe, send to LISTSERV@CPSR.ORG with the message SUBSCRIBE TELECOM-POST YOUR NAME. Unsubscribtion requests should be sent to the list from which you receive the Telecom Post unless you purposely subscribed to it through CPSR in which case you would write to LISTSERV@CPSR.ORG with the message UNSUBSCRIBE TELECOM-POST. ===================================================== The Telecom Post is posted moore or less weekly. My apologies for cross-posts. ====================================================== TOPICS 1. STATE OF THE TELECOM BILL 2. MEDIA CONCENTRATION 3. FREEDOM OF SPEECH 4. BELL ENTRY INTO LONG DISTANCE STATE OF THE BILL One has to wonder how it is that telecommunications legislation always ends up on the tail end of the waning days of a Congressional session. As of January 20, the conferees appeared to have reached closure on all the sticky issues needing resolution between the House and Senate bills. The White House exuded enthusiasm about how its pressure had resulted in a great piece of legislation and even my hero, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), offered his support. There was every reason to believe, as of the first day of winter, that the design of our information future was a done deal. This morning's Boston Globe reports, however, that many of the Republicans are unhappy with the state of the bill and unwilling to support it. Their beef? Too regulatory. While those eager to continue the fight might take this as great news, this year's budget battle tightens the screws of the timeline. On any other year Congress would be headed home till late January. This year, however, it looks like they'll be back at work during the holidays. A reminder - the staffs of the conference committee worked through Thanksgiving too. I'd guess the moods aren't exactly festive right now. It would be comforting to think that the conference committee, given the importance of this legislation, had come to their compromises through serious committee negotiations. Not so. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) complains that though there may have been small meetings of conferees, she has not been made aware of many she would have wanted to attend. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-CO) reports that "many people on our side [of the aisle] have had trouble trying to find out where and when the [staff] meetings are held." Both report receiving actual language on the same day they are to vote The bill is 175 pages long. If you'll recall, the infamous Manager's Amendment, which completely changed the game in the HR1555, was slipped into the bill just prior to the House vote. Is this happening often enough to describe it as the Republican style? Thought the official bill language has not been released, some details have made it into the media. An overview of what we've got is this: MEDIA CONCENTRATION This issue was the final sticking point. Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) and the White House were the main opponents of the language in HR1555 and S652, claiming it would do more to develop unregulated monopolies than unleashing "wild" competition as intended. I saw a prediction somewhere that we are likely to see our current field of 15 major carriers reduced to a somewhere between 2-4 once the dust clears from the merger frenzy. It is this set of compromises that has the GOP up in arms right now. It is also the basis on which the White House has lifted its threat of veto. The following list contains the compromises reached. The worst case category refers to language that exists in the House and/or the Senate bills. Until this legislation is law, the worst case language is still in contention for inclusion in the final bill. You be the judge. Radio station ownership: Worst case - no limits on the number of radio stations owned by a single entity within a single market. Compromise - no more that 8 radio stations owned by a single entity within a single market Current law - no more than 2 AM and 2 FM stations owned by a single entity within a single market TV Broadcast: Worst case - A single network can own stations reaching 35% of the nation's households. The FCC can waive that limit. A single network can own 2 stations in a single market. Compromise - A single network can own stations reaching 35% of the nation's households. The FCC cannot waive that limit. A single network cannot own 2 stations in a single market but the FCC can waive that limit. Current law - A single network can own stations reaching 25% of the nation's households. A single network cannot own 2 stations in the same market. TV/Newspaper Ownership Worst case - no limits on owning both in a single market. Compromise - A TV station is not allowed to own a newspaper in the same market. Current - A TV station is not allowed to own a newspaper in the same market. Telco/Cable Worst case - Telephone companies can merge with cable companies in markets of 50,000 or less. Compromise - Telephone companies can merge with cable companies in markets of 50,000 or less but only in rural, not urban, areas. Current - Telephone companies cannot merge with cable companies. Rubert Murdoch lost one. Currently he owns minority stakes in TV stations that reach 38% of national households. The FCC is able to restrict that reach. A provision in the original language would have prevented the FCC from imposing that restriction but it was rejected meaning that Fox may have to give up some of its stations. FREEDOM OF SPEECH ON THE INTERNET Censorship took center stage last week when the worst of our fears were realized. Who would have thought Senator Exon's (D-) amendment (the Communications Decency Act, CDA) would make it into law? Early on Newt Gingrich claimed that it was unconstitutional and appeared to stand as the great defender of the First Amendment. Then came the big "cyberporn" scare and a big push from the Christian Right on "family values". Now there is very little contention in Congress over this provision. Newt has become silent. It is most likely a done deal. (I'd love to see a recent GOPAC contribution list.) Any questions on the constitutionality of the CDA will now have to take place in the courtroom. The _American Reporter_, an online magazine, has suggested that it will pursue that course by publishing an intentionally "indecent" article written by a judge and then pursue the litigation process to the highest level. The state of the language is the following: A. Criminal penalties of 2 years imprisonment and $100,000 in fines can be levied upon the knowing transmission of offensive material to minors. The week of December 4 brought this issue to the conferee table. Rep. Rick White (R-WA) proposed language that closely resembled the original Exon amendment but replaced the standard of "indecency" with the standard of "harmful to minors". This would have narrowed the test dramatically. However, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) proposed a modification that returned the wording to "indecent" and it passed 17-16. - A quick look at standards: Indecency - used for broadcast media This standard includes less-than-obscene material including the "seven dirty words", _Catcher in the Rye_, Ulysses, sex and AIDs educational literature, photographic, sculpted, and painted images of nudes, rap lyrics. . . 1. taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion 2. depicts, represents or describes in patently offensive ways, ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated sadomasochistic acts or abuse; or lewd exhibition of the genitals, public area, buttocks, or post-pubertal female breasts Obscenity 1. taken as a whole, appeal to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion 2. depicts, represents or describes in patently offensive ways, ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated sadomasochistic acts or abuse; or lewd exhibition of the genitals, public area, buttocks, or post-pubertal female breasts 3. taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value Harmful to minors 1. taken as a whole and with respect to minors, appeals to the prurient interest in nudity, sex, or excretion 2. depicts, represents or describes in a patently offensive way with respect to what is suitable for minors, ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated sadomasochistic acts or abuse; or lewd exhibition of the genitals, public area, buttocks, or post-pubertal female breasts 3. taken as a whole and with respect to minors, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors. Those who would be held liable are anyone who 1. "makes, creates, or solicits and initiates the transmission of, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communications which is obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person. Or 2. who "uses an interactive computer service to send directly to any person under 18 years of age, or to send to any interactive computer service for display in a manner available to a person under 18 years of age, any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication that is harmful to minors, regardless of whether the maker of such communication placed the call or initiated the communication". B. Access providers and employers are given protections from liability for the transmission of offensive material. C. The FCC is prohibited from regulating content on the Internet. (This is taken from the Cox/Wyden amendment in HR1555). D. Industry is encouraged (ala Cox/Wyden) to develop technologies that will block or screen for offensive material. The "V-chip" language is included calling on industry to voluntarily develop a coding system that can be used to develop filters from the home. Discussions are beginning to develop over the usefulness of developing an extensive coding system that will serve as a general information management tool. BABY BELL ENTRY INTO LONG DISTANCE The checklist approach to determining that an adequate level of competition exists before the Bells are freed from their regulatory bindings has been left largely for industry special interests to struggle with. Upon passage of HR1555, the long distance industry became ardently opposed to the legislation claiming that the Bells would be allowed to compete in the long distance (or interLATA, IXC, etc.) market before adequate competition existed locally. Again, specific language was at issue. The result - the Baby Bells have walked away with the whole show. Sen. Ernest Hollings played a key role in this issue. Strong pressure came from Gingrich and Dole to remove regulations at the earliest possible opportunity Hollings had the clout to effectively stand in the way of that pressure. He chose not to. There were two major sticking points with regard to releasing the Bells from regulatory constraints. The first was the test for the existence of adequate competition in the local market. Strict tests requiring "actual and demonstrable" "facilities-based competition" exist in the local market were supported by Rep. Thomas Bliley (R-VA). The competitor had to offer services "equal in price, features and scope" to the local Bell's. The Bell's protested that this would delay their entry into long distance for years. HR1555 started out with this test but the Manager's Amendment, inserted at the last minute, revised the test to one requiring only the presence of a non-facilities based reseller in the local market. The long distance industry then began its campaign to defeat the bill. Bliley made a heroic effort to return the bill to its original language and might have been successful with help from Hollings, but it was not to be. Now the Bells will be able to jump into long distance almost immediately in some areas. The second sticking point was on pricing. As monopolies, Baby Bells are subject or Rate-of-Return (ROR) regulation on their charges. ROR means that their profit margins are tied to their costs and the amount is determined by state regulators. Desperate for release from that yoke, the Bells argue for "pricing flexibility". Pricing flexibility takes the form of price caps in some instances. Consumer groups claim that by lowering services standards and with the decreasing cost of technology, price caps will give the Bells the ability to overcharge the American consumer by as much as $14 billion a year. Dole has applied much pressure on the committee to dispense with the ROR regulation and it appears to have paid off. One wonders what kind of pressure the Bells will be able to afford once their profits are freed from regulatory constraints. WHAT TO DO Because final language has not publicly appeared, this is far from a complete list of issues involved in this hugely complex bill. We may have only the week between Christmas and New Years to continue applying pressure for either defeat or a better bill. Once the bill comes out of conference it will pass back through the House and Senate. Your representatives need to hear your thoughts. It can still be prevented from reaching the President's desk. Happy Holidays everyone. It's been a great year for electronic grassroots activism. Hopefully, these pioneering efforts will form the seeds of a new form of citizenship in the years to come.