Media Ownership & Telecommunications
Nearly 70 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. "The consequences of media consolidation go to the heart of the democratic process," Sen. 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."
In 1983, the American media was dominated by 50 companies. Today, media ownership is overwhelmingly concentrated in just six corporations: Comcast, Disney, Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom and CBS. 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. Today, rules that would allow internet service providers to restrict content and stifle innovation have been proposed and mergers of the top cable and internet service providers have been submitted for review. The situation for diversity of views and ownership on the radio is no better.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
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. 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 that 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 regulations that promote competition in cable television prices.
On the issue of “net neutrality,” Sen. Sanders has strongly opposed any rules that would allow internet service providers to restrict content and stifle innovation. Earlier this year, the FCC proposed rules that would allow internet service providers to be able to charge for priority treatment, in essence dividing the internet into fast and slow lanes sold to the highest bidder. Paid prioritization would change the fundamental architecture of the Internet - it would no longer be an even playing field and would allow big corporations to control content online. Sen. Sanders has called on the FCC to ensure that the internet remains free and open by reclassifying the Internet as a “common carrier.” This is the only path forward to maintain an open forum, free of discrimination.
Access to high-speed Internet is crucially important to communities throughout 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 that 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 remains committed to ensuring that every Vermonter will have access to broadband services in their homes and businesses. The 2010 economic stimulus bill provided our state with a historic opportunity to significantly expand affordable broadband access. Vermont was awarded more than $172 million – more than any other state on a per capita basis – for four separate broadband projects that when complete will provide near-universal access.
Vermont Telephone Company (VTel) has nearly completed a fiber optic project in Springfield and thirteen surrounding towns, and is offering affordable service to more than 17,000 homes and businesses with speeds that are 100 times the national average. A similar, but smaller fiber optic project by Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom in the Waitsfield/Lincoln area is largely complete. Sovernet and VTel have both completed projects to run fiber optic service to more than 400 community institutions across Vermont, including schools, hospitals and healthcare clinics, libraries, first responders, etc. And, VTel’s statewide project to provide wireless broadband to 84 towns with little or no access, started offering service this past July to more than 20,000 homes and businesses in Hardwick and 14 other towns. While we have a long way to go, we are making real progress, and all of these projects will be complete by September 2015.