Coalition targets Telecom Act failings

Revisions could affect the entire industry

WASHINGTON — Pointing to a new report detailing the 1996 Telecommunications Act’s failures to serve the public interest, a coalition of concerned groups that includes the Screen Actors Guild formed Monday and demanded “a seat at the table” when Congress revisits the act later this year.

Revisions could affect the entire telecom industry, from broadcasters to phone service providers.

Claiming more than 115 various groups comprising 20 million individual members, the Media and Democracy Coalition called for a more “competitive, diverse and independent media to better serve our nation’s democracy and culture,” according to a statement. Besides SAG, member groups include the Future of Music Coalition, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the AFL-CIO and Consumers Union.

Another member, the public interest group Common Cause, simultaneously released its report, “The Fallout of the Telecommunications Act of 1996: Unintended Consequences and Lessons Learned.” Its principal finding: “In many ways, the Telecom Act failed to serve the public and did not deliver on its promise of more competition, more diversity, lower prices, more jobs and a booming economy. Instead, the public got more media concentration, less diversity and higher prices.”

And because the act raised limits on ownership of media outlets, “just five companies — Viacom, Disney, News Corp, NBC and AOL — now control 75% of all primetime viewing.”

Members of Congress have acknowledged problems with the Telecom Act. During a recent hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, which will jointly review the act with the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah) said, “The competitive landscape envisioned by the act has not been realized, and is receding.”

Neither House committee, nor the Senate Commerce Committee, which will also participate, has set a date for starting the review.