First Amendment Rights

Destroying Access to Local Democracy

Most of you will have no idea what I am writing about – because you are fortunate to have more than just basic cable, and were born after the advent of cable TV.

Many of you – might not know or care – but you should –  if you claim to care about the democratic process – or are a progressive, or a liberal, or just like to spout off something about caring for your fellow man when you’re drunk.

While taking my somewhat regular look at the ALECexposed webpage today to research some model legislation, I was reading about the intricate web of legislation woven in Wisconsin.

As very similar legislation  has already been passed into law here in NC it piqued my interest.  And let me tell you Wisconsinites something — you should really care about this one.

For those of you in the industry – please excuse my simplistic approach to this issue – this is the best I could surmise from my research.

HISTORY

rabbit ears antennaBack in the “good old days”, if people wanted to watch TV they had to have an antenna either on top of the TV, next to their house or on top of their house.

Back in the seventies – cable broadcasting came about in order to provide more TV service to more people.  Because the signal to an antenna was often interfered with by tall buildings or mountains,  cables were dug underground to improve reception and to bring it to areas beyond the limited reach of broadcast antennae.

The underground areas that the corporations wanted to use for installing these cables were generally located in cities across the United States.  This is referred to as the “right-of-way” where the electric, telephone, and gas lines (aka utilities considered necessary needed to live) were then located.

right of wayThis ”right-of-way” is PUBLIC land – owned by you and me.  Back in the old days, it was determined that cable TV was entertainment, a luxury – not really needed.  So if the private, for-profit cable companies wanted to run their cables in the PUBLIC right-of-way – the cable companies would need to pay a franchise fee (aka rent payment) to the cities to use that space located underground land that belongs to the PUBLIC.

Public Access TVpublic access tv

As part of those franchise agreements allowing private for-profit cable companies to use the PUBLIC right-of-way, was the establishment of PEG programs.  PEG stands for Public, Educational and Government programming.  This is your local public access TV station.

Public – This means that the public access station is available to most any person to use their first amendment rights to do a TV show.  In my area  – every one of these shows is a local citizen spouting right wing babble.  Although in many parts of the country there are many interesting shows focusing on local and national issues, including ethnic groups, youth, seniors, the LGBT… community programming.

Educational – This is available to the schools to broadcast school board meetings, high school sports programs, high school graduations, band concerts, grade school programs, etc. on the public access TV station.

Government – This is available to government to broadcast city and county board meetings, planning meetings, utility board meetings and a host of other meetings that are suppose to be “open meetings”.

vocational programming on public access tvAnd let’s not forget job creation.  Many Public Access TV stations broadcast programming that provides valuable training  to local teens and adults which can help them to learn employable skills.

But don’t believe for a split second that the funding for this was given to the cities out of the cable companies’ goodwill.  The negotiation of franchise renewals continues to be a bitter and horrendous process – a Private v. Public “death-match” every time.

Meanwhile,  the well financed private corporations are effectively acting as a cartel–carving up the country between themselves so that they do not have to have any costly competition with each other…essentially monopolies in their own marketing areas.

In these franchise renewal negotiations the arrogance of the Private cable companies is on display as the use of YOUR Public right-of-way is a bone of contention.  These corporations want to be able to use the right-of-way for Corporations are not Peoplefree–this is just taken for granted.  Apparently this fits well with their corporate personhood,  No restrictions on their profits are acceptable.  Regulations to ensure that Public Access TV remains Public are anathema.  In the pursuit of ever greater revenues – these corporations demonstrate nothing but absolute disdain for the Public services that are part and parcel of Public Access TV.

And that is where the association with ALEC comes in along with cable-company-specific ALEC “model” legislation comes in.

Many Public Access stations across the United States are losing their funding from the cable companies because of ALEC legislation.  The aim of this ALEC legislation is take the franchise negotiations away from the city level and put the negotiations at the state level – where ALEC’s Corporate Member cable companies negotiate with ALEC Legislative Members in the state legislatures.
ALECexposed

Quoting very liberally from ALECexposed, here is an interesting timetable for you to consider:

First, in Wisconsin,, there was the The Broadband Deployment Act of 2003, which freed the telecom industry from oversight.  Check out the resemblance to ALEC’s Broadband and Telecommunications Deployment Act

Then came  a Municipal Broadband bill from 2004, which blocked municipalities from competing with corporate providers of broadband services.  A remarkable resemblance to ALEC’s Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act

And a 2007 Telephone Deregulation Bill, ending public oversight and regulations in Wisconsin for telephone services, looks like the ALEC Advanced Voice Services Availability Act of 2007

And the Video Competition Act, eliminating municipal cable franchises and freeing companies from their previously-negotiated contracts.  Considering that it looks like the ALEC Cable and Video Competition Act, there certainly appears to be a strategy at work for the possible takeover (perhaps privatization?) of Wisconsin’s Public Access TV,


Do Not Forget
The services that are provided by Public Access TV to the public include:

Public – which gives people the chance to voice their first amendment rights to a larger audience.

Educational – which gives people the opportunity to see events that they cannot physically or financially attend.

Government – which gives the public access to their government.  Even when they are working 10 – 12 hour days – the public can watch the government meetings on TV and know what is happening in their community and comment to their city / county representatives.  They can see for themselves just who their elected representatives are indeed representing,  Transparency in government.

Many of you may not watch public access TV – but many people do.

Just because some don’t watch it – does not mean that public access TV should not be available.

As I stated earlier – franchise negotiations appear to be fierce – with the cable companies wielding their well-paid lawyers against public servants.  Many towns don’t have the expertise or the money to pay for the legal expertise to properly negotiate with the legions of highly paid cable lawyers.  And thus many cities across the United States are losing most funding for public access TV or all funding for public access TV.

Think about it – just for a moment. There is something horribly wrong with this ALEC, legislators, corporationsscenario.  ALEC Corporate private sector members come into the state legislature and negotiate cable franchise agreements (for the cities) with ALEC state legislators.  If this piece of ALEC “model” legislation has not already been implemented in your state (and it has been in some) – it will be introduced by an ALEC state legislator sooner than later.

When the public no longer has access to their local government (as provided by public access TV), democracy at the most local level is diminished and that is what ALEC’s pro-cable company “model” legislation and your state ALEC legislator are doing – reducing access to democracy  to increase profits / revenues for some very large corporations.

If you check the corporations listed at ALECExposed – you will find your cable provider.  They attend ALEC meetings to promote legislation that increases cable corporate revenues / profits – with total disregard for the needs of the public.

 

 

Corporate Bullies Attack Free Speech

With all the recent brouhaha about the second amendment, firearm regulation and out of control gun violence, one would think that’s the only amendment under attack.

Not so…

There exists a different form of violence assaulting our first amendment rights — cowardly legal attacks meant to silence free speech and intimidate their victims. They’re called SLAPP suits: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Typically they are made with dubious claims of slander or libel, but virtually any law can be bent to fit the means of legal bullies.

Designed to silence and financially destroy their targets, they are the legal tool of choice of corporate bullies that wish to quash critics, opposition, competition and unfavorable opinions. Although illegal in 28 states, SLAPP suits continue to thrive in our litigious nation. The suits are hollow and the plaintiff rarely intends to win — just to silence free speech. Both common and constitutional law have evolved to set a very high substantive burden to claims that restrict free speech, particularly that which involves the public realm. But that doesn’t stop the legal bullying.

TransCanada, the multinational corporation building a tar sands pipeline in Texas SLAPPed activists who protested the project. The corporation demanded $5 million in damages. Although the activists were well represented by the Civil Liberties Defense Center, the defendants opted to reach a settlement in which they agreed to cease their protest just to put an end to the legal nightmare. Tamie Carson, A Texas grandmother said “I had no choice but to settle or lose my home and everything I’ve worked for my entire life.”

The Civil Liberties Defense Center characterizes SLAPPs such:

“[They]…function by forcing the target into the judicial arena where the SLAPP filer foists upon the target the expenses of a defense…The purpose of such gamesmanship ranges from simple retribution for past activism to discouraging future activism…Those who lack the financial resources and emotional stamina to play out the “game” face the difficult choice of defaulting despite meritorious defenses or being brought to their knees to settle…Persons who have been outspoken on issues of public importance targeted in such suits or who have witnessed such suits will often choose in the future to stay silent. Short of a gun to the head, a greater threat to First Amendment expression can scarcely be imagined.”

Sadly, I can relate. Several years ago my family, and several of my friends’ families, were the target of a SLAPP suit from Meijer Corporation over a development they planned in our community. After several agonizing years of litigation, we jointly agreed to file what’s called a SLAPP-back suit. In the face of legal discovery, it was only a matter of months before the corporate bully folded like a deck chair. The problem is, the fear never goes away. As a political activist and campaign manager I have been threatened twice more with SLAPP suits — the worst part is, the threats came from individuals that knew about the ordeal my family had been through. That’s extreme cruelty.

SLAPPs are not uncommon. Just this week, one was filed against a woman in Atlantic City, another against a group in Washington state, a SanClemente developer SLAPPed a local political action committee. The family of Ray Charles fought back against a SLAPP filed to prevent them from exercising their right to regain copyright to their father’s music.

Some consider SLAPP suits a fascist tool designed to enable corporate interests to trample individual first amendment rights. It’s about more than our rights — it’s about the lives of very real people. I witnessed the stress — the emotional and physical toll the SLAPP suit inflicted on my family and friends. Just thinking about it makes me sick all over again…but I will never forget.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

CMPD Officers File “Notice of Intent” to Protest at DNC