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Copps Concerned About Media Consolidation and Deregulation and Cites the Need for Net Neutrality

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2010- Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps fears that industry consolidation will overlook public interest and damage the country’s media landscape.

Speaking at a forum concerning the Comcast/NBCU merger at Northwestern University Law School on July 13 Copps feels like this merger is unique, and said “While in some respects it is similar to transactions that we have witnessed before, in other important ways it is new and novel,” since the merger includes broadband and the internet.

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WASHINGTON, July 14, 2010- Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps fears that industry consolidation will overlook public interest and damage the country’s media landscape.

Speaking at a forum concerning the Comcast/NBCU merger at Northwestern University Law School on July 13 Copps feels like this merger is unique, and said “While in some respects it is similar to transactions that we have witnessed before, in other important ways it is new and novel,” since the merger includes broadband and the internet.

According to the commissioner, the fairness assurances and conditions made in the Comcast/NBCU proposal are not adequate, especially when the future of the internet is concerned. He said we cannot trust decisions to be made in the industry by those without public policy consideration. By doing so, he said Americans would “lose the media and we set ourselves up to lose everything else.”

In the last few decades, he said public interest has been overlooked by the government as industry consolidation was encouraged. He blamed the combination of “bad private choices and equally horrendous public policy choices” for these damages. Copps said the FCC, the agency charged with protecting consumers, has allowed serious harm to come to localism, diversity, and competition, which are the basic tenants of public interest.

Michael J. Copps

In addition to public interest, Copps examined the adverse impacts of “heedless deregulation” on society in the last decade. Using the news and information industry as an example, he said that consolidation and newsroom cut-backs, combined with the FCC’s disregard for public interest, has not revived the news business. Instead, he said it “condemned us to less real news, less serious political coverage, less diversity of opinion, less minority and female ownership, less investigative journalism, and fewer jobs for journalists.” He said we are close to putting democracy in danger by denying our country the news and information and civic dialogue it depends on.

However, Copps said there is much promise to be found in the internet, calling it “America’s Great Enabler.” He said every issue facing the United States has some type of broadband component in its solution. Therefore, we need to keep the Internet open and dynamic in order to avoid the problems currently facing traditional media sources.

He wants consumers and industry to know what their protections and rules are online, and to enact some type of forum where problems can be fixed when the rules are unclear or broken. In response to criticism that this type of system is government meddling for too bureaucratic, Copps said this would merely be consumer protection, which the FCC was designed to promote and oversee.

He also delved into the topic of promoting diversity, one of the FCC’s central tenants. He said that diversity online, which includes all varieties of content, opinion, and format, is essential to keeping an open internet. However, he also focused on diversity ownership, saying that minorities make up 34 percent of the population but only own 3.15 percent of the full-power television stations. Only 5.8 percent of television stations are owned by women, who make up 51 percent of the population.

Therefore, minorities’ interests, specific challenges, and their contributions do not have adequate channels through which to receive attention. Copps said “shortchanging ownership diversity is shortchanging our civic dialogue.”

Overall, he was pleased that FCC Chairman Genachowski has set up a review proceeding for the Comcast/NBCU merger that includes in-depth investigation and consideration. He also thanked members of Congress and members of the press for the involvement and attention they are giving to the proceedings. He asked the public to stay involved in these types of debates and discussions because the future of the country will depend upon the type of media that it will have.

Social Media

Americans Should Look to Filtration Software to Block Harmful Content from View, Event Hears

One professor said it is the only way to solve the harmful content problem without encroaching on free speech rights.

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Photo of Adam Neufeld of Anti-Defamation League, Steve Delbianco of NetChoice, Barak Richman of Duke University, Shannon McGregor of University of North Carolina (left to right)

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2022 – Researchers at an Internet Governance Forum event Thursday recommended the use of third-party software that filters out harmful content on the internet, in an effort to combat what they say are social media algorithms that feed them content they don’t want to see.

Users of social media sites often don’t know what algorithms are filtering the information they consume, said Steve DelBianco, CEO of NetChoice, a trade association that represents the technology industry. Most algorithms function to maximize user engagement by manipulating their emotions, which is particularly worrisome, he said.

But third-party software, such as Sightengine and Amazon’s Rekognition – which moderate what users see by bypassing images and videos that the user selects as objectionable – could act in place of other solutions to tackle disinformation and hate speech, said Barak Richman, professor of law and business at Duke University.

Richman argued that this “middleware technology” is the only way to solve this universal problem without encroaching on free speech rights. He suggested Americans in these technologies – that would be supported by popular platforms including Facebook, Google, and TikTok – to create the buffer between harmful algorithms and the user.

Such technologies already exist in limited applications that offer less personalization and accuracy in filtering, said Richman. But the market demand needs to increase to support innovation and expansion in this area.

Americans across party lines believe that there is a problem with disinformation and hate speech, but disagree on the solution, added fellow panelist Shannon McGregor, senior researcher at the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life at the University of North Carolina.

The conversation comes as debate continues regarding Section 230, a provision in the Communications Decency Act that protects technology platforms from being liable for content their users post. Some say Section 230 only protects “neutral platforms,” while others claim it allows powerful companies to ignore user harm. Experts in the space disagree on the responsibility of tech companies to moderate content on their platforms.

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Big Tech

Surveillance Capitalism a Symptom of Web-Dependent Companies, Not Ownership

Former Google executive Richard Whitt critiqued Ben Tarnoff’s argument in ‘Internet for the People’ during Gigabit Libraries discussion.

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Photo of Ben Tarnoff, co-founder of magazine Logic and the author of “Internet for the People”

July 15, 2022 – A former Google executive  pushed back against a claim that the privatization of broadband infrastructure has created the world’s current data and privacy concerns, instead suggesting that it’s the companies that rely on the web that have helped fuel the problem.

Richard Whitt, president of technology non-profit GLIA Foundation and former employee of Google, argued that while the World Wide Web is rife with problems, the internet infrastructure underlying the web remains fundamentally sound.

Whitt was responding to claims made by Ben Tarnoff, a journalist and founder of Logic Magazine, at the Libraries in Response event on July 8. Tarnoff argued – as he does in his recent book, “Internet for the People” – that the privatization of broadband infrastructure in the 1990s has allowed the use and commodification of personal data for profit to flourish (known as surveillance capitalism).

The discussion took place during the Gigabit Libraries Network’s series “Libraries in Response.” The session was titled “If the Internet is Broken, How Can Libraries Help Fix it?”

Privatization, Tarnoff claims, has raised such issues as polarization of ideologies and the “annihilation of our privacy.” As a result, he said, the American people are losing trust in tech companies that “rule the internet.”

Whitt responded that the internet is working well based on the protocols, standardized rules for routing and addressing packets of data to travel across networks, derived at the onset of the internet.

The World Wide Web, a system built on the internet to allow communication using easy-to-understand graphical user interfaces, allowed for browsers and other applications to emerge, which have since perpetuated surveillance capitalism into the governing approach of the web that it is today, said Whitt, suggesting it’s not ownership of the hard infrastructure that’s the problem.

The advertising market that encourages surveillance extraction, analysis and manipulation is, and will continue to be, profitable, Whitt continued.

The discussion follows a Pew Research Center study that found that only half of Americans believe tech companies have a positive effect in 2019 compared to a seventy-one percent in 2015.

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Big Tech

American Innovation and Choice Online Act Has Panelists Divided on Small Business Impact

The bill is intended to prohibit product preferences on tech platforms, with some saying it could harm small companies dependent on those platforms.

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Panel at CSIS event on Thursday

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2022 – Observers are still divided about the effect on small business of legislation that is intended to keep large technology platforms from giving preference to their own products over others.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted experts last month to discuss the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, which was introduced in January. The event heard both support for the bill, as well as concern that it could negatively impact smaller businesses that rely on the larger platforms.

“Existing antitrust law is not going to be enough to rein in the power of the largest tech platforms,” Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at public interest group Public Knowledge, said, adding the AICOA is very important for small business competition “to get a fair shot.”

“Fundamentally this is a really important…for competition because this protects small companies that are potential competitors against one of these large platforms,” she added.

Krisztian Katona, vice president of global competition and regulatory policy at the Computer & Communications Industry Association, however, said that after performing a cost-benefit analysis of AICOA, he expects the legislation will hurt business competition.

He said that the legislation would increase operating costs for smaller companies and force these companies to reduce the cost of their services. He predicts that close to 100 companies by 2030 would be negatively impacted by the legislation if it becomes law.

Others agree with Katona. A report in March by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council said small business owners felt the AICOA could be detrimental to them, saying it could increase prices. Meanwhile Michael Petricone, senior vice president of the Consumer Technology Association, said in June that small businesses would be affected the most by big tech regulation because they depend on those platforms.

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