Tuesday, September 27, 2005

F.C.C., Inc.

Today former FEMA director Michael Brown was being questioned by Congress over his role in the disaster response to Hurricane Katrina. However, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell, son of former Sec. of State Colin Powell, deserves some of the blame for the failure of local, state, and federal officials’ ability to communicate during the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Powell is a staunch defender of corporate media interests, even if it means harm to public safety. The issue here is that first responders at all levels of government have had great difficulty communicating with each other because each agency uses a different radio frequency or communications standard and have limited spectrum at their disposal. This weakness was especially apparent during 9/11, and was addressed in the 9/11 Commission Report as a major problem that could be corrected with an Interoperable Communications system. Unfortunately, Powell has resisted efforts to create the necessary spectrum for such a public safety system, because it would entail taking back some of the new spectrum provided to the media industry in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Major broadcasters are blocking access to spectrum for first responders across the nation, even though an original provision in the telecomm act promised to give back this spectrum after 2006. Unfortunately thanks to corporate lobbying, an exception for the spectrum release date was later included by Congress in the 1997 budget. This means broadcasters could hold onto the spectrum for decades to come, as testified by Powell himself in 2004 before a Commerce Committee hearing.

This is a travesty and an abuse of responsible public policy. Our tax dollars pay for the very spectrum television broadcasters use for free. Yet all we get in return is substandard public policy information through a watered down, highly commercialized and sensationalized news media. Never mind that subscribers already pay outrageous subscription fees for the excess spectrum not fully utilized by cable and satellite providers.

The idea that public use of this spectrum for emergency purposes is being held hostage by media giants is proof of their total disregard for public safety and a lack of public responsibility on the part of the members of Congress who allow this to continue.

Please read the recent speech delivered by one of the few honorable and dedicated public servants on the floor of the U.S. Senate at the following link:


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