Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Vexed On All Sides

The very first blog I did on this site was about the start of the new legislative year and while all eyes are on Capitol Hill, the real action would be in the state house. What? Am I Cassandra?
Not exactly, no omniscient seer here, it’s just that “divide and conquer” is a strategy dating back even farther than the Greeks and it’s one that works.

Indiana, Virginia, Florida, Arizona, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas have all had negative legislation introduced and this is only early February.

Bills to sidestep the local franchising process. Bills to prevent municipal entry. Bills to limit collection of franchise fees. Bills to dictate the number of PEG channels a municipality can require. Bills to eliminate control of Public Rights of Way. Bills to limit I-Net delivery. Bills to allow redlining. Bills to limit compensation for street damage. Bills to stifle competition.

We got more bills than Picasso got paint.

It is overwhelming but predictable and it is only a hint of things to come, but it might be okay after all.

There is organizing going on with great fervor at the local and state level. Coalitions between municipalities, consumer, PEG access and anti-media consolidations groups are now forming in strategic ways. As they battle at the state level they are laying the foundation for a grassroots movement that can be mobilized on a nationwide basis when the Telecom Act starts getting sliced and diced. These groups and coalitions have a very powerful tool at their disposal; a wide and assorted communications network.

When I was at the Alliance for Community Media it seemed the task to stay ahead of lousy legislation was daunting. We were up against a $65 billion a year industry with 24/7 lobby capability at every level of government. However, the thing I learned was we had a motivated grassroots who were very willing to write letters, make phone calls and turn out when called on. The cable ops might have all the money but it is certain that nobody is ever going to show up to protest on their behalf and we can load up busses in a heartbeat if we need to.

Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has announced that he intends to hold hearings around the country before beginning a formal committee review of the Act. These hearings will be a golden opportunity to turn out the local coalitions. It will also be a great opportunity to use established resources (cameras, television stations and web streaming) to educate the general public on these issues.

Since I started with the Greeks, I will end with the Greeks. All of this legislation, like the snakes on Medusa’s head, is scary and distracting. But it wasn’t the snakes that turned people into stone, it was Medusa’s concentrated stare, her focus, if you will. She was eventually beheaded because she was outwitted and that is the key. Don’t let the snakes scare you, don’t get caught in the cross-hairs of the telecom corporations and use all the resources you have to outwit them.

And if you live in one of the states mentioned above take a couple minutes today to find out what’s going on.

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