Seeking diversity in public interest requirements

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The administration of Barack Obama, still over two-months shy of taking office, is hitting the ground running. In fact, an entire website dedicated to the transfer of power is already up and running, and from it we learn that promoting media ownership diversity and clarification of broadcast public interest obligations are on the agenda. Included is a sector-by-sector enumeration of problems and goals.


Included under Technology are a number of items relating to communications issues, prominently including a section entitles “Ensure the Full and Free Exchange of Ideas through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets.“
However, there is no real secret as to how the policy stances came to exist at change.gov so swiftly – they are virtually if not completely identical to the communications policies enumerated in Obama’s campaign website.

As such, it should come as no surprise that Obama wants to encourage media ownership diversity; that he wishes to protect children from inappropriate broadcast content but would do so by emphasizing parental control tools rather than content regulation; the he favors an open Internet structure (in other words, is for the net neutrality concept); favors extensive deployment of broadband (in other words, he’d probably be in favor of unlicensed white space devices although it is not explicitly stated in the text); and from a journalistic standpoint, he favors much more open access to government leaders and actions than was the case under the “secretive” Bush administration; he will also try to strengthen protections for intellectual property rights both at home and abroad.

RBR/TVBR observation: The most worrisome item on Obama’s laundry list is the public interest obligation plank – a noble goal that nonetheless does not lend itself to an effective regulatory fix.
The fact that he sides with content creators over those who would regulate content is a major plus. Media ownership diversity is a mixed bag – another noble goal, but there is only so much that can be done to quickly bring ownership ethnicity into congruence with the ethnic levels in the general population. But if it means a quick signature on a minority tax certificate bill, that’s a good thing.

Selected paragraphs from Obama’s Technology agenda

* Encourage Diversity in Media Ownership: Barack Obama believes that the nation’s rules ensuring diversity of media ownership are critical to the public interest. Unfortunately, over the past several years, the Federal Communications Commission has promoted the concept of consolidation over diversity. As president, Obama will encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.

* Protect Our Children While Preserving the First Amendment: We live in the most information-abundant age in history and the people who develop the skills to utilize its benefits are the people who will succeed in the 21st century. Obama values our First Amendment freedoms and our right to artistic expression and does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns. An Obama administration will give parents the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment. To further protect children online, Obama and Biden support tough penalties, increased enforcement resources and forensic tools for law enforcement, and collaboration between law enforcement and the private sector to identify and prosecute people who abuse the Internet to try to exploit children.

* Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy: Open Up Government to its Citizens: The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history. Our nation’s progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information-all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest. An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens.

* Bring Government into the 21st Century: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Obama and Biden believe in the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability and willingness to give and to give back to make government work better. Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

* Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure: Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives.

* Bring Government into the 21st Century: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks. Obama and Biden believe in the American people and in their intelligence, expertise, and ability and willingness to give and to give back to make government work better. Obama will appoint the nation’s first Chief  Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st Century. The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices.

* Deploy a Modern Communications Infrastructure: Deploy Next-Generation Broadband: Barack Obama believes that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and Obama will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives.