Media Ownership & Telecommunications
Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court declared that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is essential to the condition of a free society." Unfortunately, a few massive multinational media conglomerates control more and more of the sources of our information - including television networks, cable channels, publishing, radio and the Internet. At the same time, one-third of America's independently-owned television stations have vanished since 1975, as have more than two-thirds of independently-owned newspapers. The story for diversity of views and ownership on the radio is no better.
"The consequences of media consolidation go to the heart of the democratic process," Sen. Bernie Sanders has said. "In my view, it will be very dangerous for our country and communities around America when one company is able to own a local newspaper, television station and radio station. Opposing points of view won't be heard and our democracy will suffer."
Media consolidation suppresses diversity and ignores the needs and interests of local communities. Sen. Sanders has been a leader in the fight to stop media consolidation and return public interest obligations to broadcasters. We need programming that is responsive to local needs and responsible to the people. In the Senate, Sen. Sanders continues to work hard to make sure that we hold all media companies responsible for providing content that serves the public and offers a diverse range of opinions. He opposed previous FCC and large media conglomerates' attempts to gut the ban that prohibits a local newspaper from owning TV and radio stations in the same market. Weakening existing rules will further consolidate local media markets - taking away independent voices in cities already woefully short on local news and substantive journalism.
Sen. Sanders has also long fought against the unfair prices of our nation's large cable TV monopolies who raise rates on consumers year after year and often reduce channels available under basic cable packages. In Vermont and elsewhere, cable television is often an essential information service for consumers and thus an affordable basic package is necessary for residents to remain informed and connected to their communities. In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that cable prices had risen 77 percent since 1996, roughly double the rate of inflation. Sen. Sanders remains a strong advocate for appropriate regulations so that there is more competition in cable television prices and so consumers are allowed to pay for only the channels that they want - so-called "a la carte" programming.
Access to high-speed Internet is crucially important to communities around Vermont, and Sen. Sanders has led efforts to narrow the "digital divide" between Americans who are connected to modern communications networks and those who are not. "Throughout America, there are thousands of communities which still lack cell phone service and the adequate broadband services necessary for today's business and education. In 21st century America, we cannot allow towns across Vermont to be left behind technologically," Sen. Sanders has said. Sen. Sanders is hopeful that, as a result of over $172 million in 2010 stimulus funds for wireless broadband expansion in the state, every Vermonter will have access to broadband computer services in their homes and businesses by the end of 2013.
In addition, while the Internet offers a great opportunity for a diversity of voices, a small handful of large companies control much of the Internet's infrastructure and are trying to eliminate the principle of "net neutrality," suppressing the easy sharing of information. This would be bad for the fruitful exchange of diverse views that characterizes the Internet, stifling the economic engine the Internet has become, and a worrisome attack on the Internet as a basic building block of 21st century democracy.
Ideally, people should be able to share information freely on the Internet without worrying about how their information is being captured and shared by others. Sen. Sanders is a defender of Americans' privacy rights in their online activities. He opposes unrestricted data collection, whether by the government or private companies, and supports requiring a warrant for the use of technology-based surveillance like GPS tracking or online data monitoring.
It is essential for our democracy that we have a vibrant and diverse media readily accessible through open and varied mediums. The consumers of information must be at the forefront of our concerns regarding communications. Sen. Sanders continues to fight for the realization of these principles.