study tells the story of the Telecommunications Act of 1996
and its aftermath. In many ways, the Telecom Act failed to
serve the public and did not deliver on its promise of more
competition, more diversity, lower prices, more jobs and a
the public got more media concentration, less diversity, and
Ratings recently completed interviewing members of traditional
radio's four constituencies for an understanding of the perceptions
related to the state of the industry ten years later. Listeners,
advertising buyers, radio executives and members of congress
were asked several questions including "Is traditional
radio better off today than it was ten years ago?"
Three-quarters of the groups interviewed felt radio was not better off.
Our study found that group heads and radio executives perceive radio
to be better off than it was before passage of the Telecommunications
10 years, the legislation was supposed to save consumers $550
billion, including $333 billion in lower long-distance rates,
$32 billion in lower local phone rates, and $78 billion in
lower cable bills. But cable rates have surged by about 50
percent, and local phone rates went up more than 20 percent.
supporting the new legislation predicted it would add 1.5 million
jobs and boost the economy by $2 trillion. By 2003, however,
telecommunications’ companies’ market value had
fallen by about $2 trillion, and they had shed half a million
study after study has documented that profit-driven media conglomerates
are investing less in news, programming and information, and
that local news in particular is failing to provide viewers
with the information they need to participate in their democracy.
did this happen? In some cases, industries agreed to the terms
of the Act and then went to court to block them. By leaving
regulatory discretion to the Federal Communications Commission,
the Act gave the FCC the power to issue rules that often sabotaged
the intent of Congress. Control of the House passed from Democrats
to Republicans, more sympathetic to corporate arguments for
while corporate special interests all had a seat at the table
when this bill was being negotiated, the public did not. Nor
were average citizens even aware of this legislation’s
great impact on how they got their entertainment and information,
and whether it would foster or discourage diversity of viewpoints,
radio programming options and a marketplace of ideas, crucial
to democratic discourse.
as Congress once again takes up major legislation to change telecommunications
policy, and as it revisits the Telecom Act, major industries
have had nearly a decade to reinforce their relationships with
lawmakers and the Administration through political donations
1997, just eight of the country’s largest and most powerful
media and telecommunications companies, their corporate parents,
and three of their trade groups, have spent more than $400
million on political contributions and lobbying in Washington,
according to a Common Cause analysis of federal records.
• Verizon Communications, SBC Communications Inc., AOL Time Warner, General
Electric Co./NBC, News Corp./Fox, Viacom Inc./CBS, Comcast Corp., Walt Disney
Co./ABC, and the National Association of Broadcasters, the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association, and the United States Telecom Association together gave nearly $45
million in federal political donations since 1997.
Of that total, $17.8 million went to Democrats and $26.9 million went
• These eight companies and three trade associations also spent more than
$358 million on lobbying in Washington, since 1998, when lobbying expenditures
were first required to be disclosed.
this investment once again gives radio and television broadcasters,
telephone companies, long-distance providers, cable systems and
Internet companies a huge advantage over average citizens.