With Massive Handouts To Sinclair, FCC Clears Path For New Wave Of Media Consolidation

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By Staff of Freepress – WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to erase several longstanding media-ownership limits that prevented one broadcast company from controlling too much media in a single market. The agency rolled back a local television-ownership rule that barred a broadcaster from owning multiple stations in smaller local markets and weakened the standards against owning more than one top-rated station in the same market. The FCC also gave its blessing to so-called joint sales agreements, or JSAs, which allow a single company to run the news operations of multiple stations in a single market that would otherwise compete against each other. The vote also overturned the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules, which prevented a single company from owning a daily newspaper, TV and radio stations in the same market. Today’s moves clear the way for the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, a deal government agencies including the FCC are now reviewing. Should regulators approve the merger, the resulting broadcast giant would control more than 233 local-TV stations reaching 72 percent of the country’s population, far in excess of national limits set by Congress on broadcast-TV ownership.

Founder Of Internet On Future Of Web: Nasty Storms Are Brewing

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By Tim Berners-Lee for The Guardian – Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s optimism about the future of the web is starting to wane in the face of a “nasty storm” of issues including the rollback of net neutrality protections, the proliferation of fake news, propaganda and the web’s increasing polarisation. The inventor of the world wide web always maintained his creation was a reflection of humanity – the good, the bad and the ugly. But Berners-Lee’s vision for an “open platform that allows anyone to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographical boundaries” has been challenged by increasingly powerful digital gatekeepers whose algorithms can be weaponised by master manipulators. “I’m still an optimist, but an optimist standing at the top of the hill with a nasty storm blowing in my face, hanging on to a fence,” said the British computer scientist. “We have to grit our teeth and hang on to the fence and not take it for granted that the web will lead us to wonderful things,” he said. The spread of misinformation and propaganda online has exploded partly because of the way the advertising systems of large digital platforms such as Google or Facebook have been designed to hold people’s attention. “People are being distorted by very finely trained AIs that figure out how to distract them,” said Berners-Lee. In some cases, these platforms offer users who create content a cut of advertising revenue. The financial incentive drove Macedonian teenagers with “no political skin in the game” to generate political clickbait fake news that was distributed on Facebook and funded by revenue from Google’s automated advertising engine AdSense.

FCC Plans December Vote To Kill Net Neutrality Rules

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By Todd Shields for Bloomberg – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission next month is planning a vote to kill Obama-era rules demanding fair treatment of web traffic and may decide to vacate the regulations altogether, according to people familiar with the plans. The move would reignite a years-long debate that has seen Republicans and broadband providers seeking to eliminate the rules, while Democrats and technology companies support them. The regulations passed in 2015 bar broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from interfering with web traffic sent by Google, Facebook Inc.and others. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, chosen by President Donald Trump, in April proposed gutting the rules and asked for public reaction. The agency has taken in more than 22 million comments on the matter. Pai plans to seek a vote in December, said two people who asked not to be identified because the matter hasn’t been made public. As the head of a Republican majority, he is likely to win a vote on whatever he proposes. One of the people said Pai may call for vacating the rules except for portions that mandate internet service providers inform customers about their practices — one of the more severe options that would please broadband providers. They argue the FCC’s rules aren’t needed and discourage investment, in part because they subject companies to complex and unpredictable regulations. Democrats and technology companies say the rules are needed to make sure telecommunications providers don’t favor business partners or harm rivals.

Voters Say ‘Yes’ To City Run Broadband In Colorado

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By Jon Brodkin for ARS Technica – Industry groups tried to convince voters to reject the municipal broadband network; the city’s mayor called it a “misinformation” campaign by the broadband incumbents. “I was very encouraged with the passage today, and particularly with the headwinds of incumbents trying to misinform the electorate,” Mayor Wade Troxell said, according to The Coloradoan. The anti-municipal broadband group, called “Priorities First Fort Collins,” spent $451,000 campaigning against the broadband network ballot question. Priorities First Fort Collins received nearly all of its funding from the Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association and a group run by the city’s chamber of commerce. Comcast is a member of both groups that funded the anti-municipal broadband campaign, while CenturyLink is a member of the chamber. The pro-municipal broadband group in Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Citizens Broadband Committee, spent less than $10,000 in the campaign. “This is another David vs. Goliath battle,” Glen Akins, who helped lead the Citizens Broadband Committee, told Ars last week.

Who Will Save The World From Digital Colonialism?

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By Staff of Media Diversified – UN Sustainable Development Goal 9: strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020. Internet for everyone, and more internet in each of our lives, have become near universally accepted objectives. It might initially have seemed like we were getting everything for free but now we’re starting to realise it’s not the case; instead of paying in money we’re paying in data about us. What is the nature of the internet that is being proliferated as a social good? Is it a surveillance network for governments and advertisers to share? A tool of Western economic, social and cultural hegemony? A new sphere for the harassment of women, now with added reach and tracking abilities! Or are these just ethnocentric criticisms that fail to understand the multifarious internets of Southern societies, and how communities make use of them differently? What does digital colonialism mean? Does the combination of the digital and the colonial create something novel? Is it an extension of the colonialism of old using different tools? These were the questions that I asked experts, campaigners and researchers at this year’s Mozilla Festival, an annual London-based event that brings together those interested in an open internet.

Journalists Who Want Online Privacy Need To Read This Guide

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By Chris Paulus for Occupy – We live in a time of journalistic prosecution, as investigative journalists get increasingly targeted for simply doing their job. The Obama Administration prosecuted more individuals under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined; in fact, it used the law to prosecute journalists almost exclusively. It is imperative that journalists protect themselves as they continue to pursue their important work in the face of growing government control. That is why Michael Dagan, a former deputy editor of the Israeli newspaper Haaertz, and Ariel Hochstadt, a former security expert as well as a marketing expert for Google, have created a guide, Online Privacy for Journalists, to help journalists protect both themselves and their sources. “Many journalists whom I have spoken with recently expressed concern for whatever lies ahead for the freedom of the press. All encryption systems can be compromised, if someone has the perseverance to track them,” writes Dagan in an introductory paragraph. “The good news is that it is nevertheless possible to make it difficult for anyone to try and intercept your emails, the text messages you’re sending or your phone calls.” One may be surprised by the extreme measures the guide suggests are necessary as preventive steps to ensure the highest likelihood of a journalist maintaining privacy.

Lawmakers Demand Tech Companies Censor Journalists And Conduct Mass Surveillance

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By Andre Damon for WSWS – Wednesday’s hearings by the House and Senate Intelligence committees on “extremist” political views served as the occasion for members of Congress to urge technology companies to flagrantly violate the US Constitution by censoring political speech, carrying out mass surveillance, and muzzling journalists in pursuit of the government’s geopolitical aims. The hearings revolved around allegations, promoted ceaselessly in recent months by the intelligence agencies, leading figures within the Democratic Party, and newspapers such as the New York Times, that social opposition to the political establishment results from “fake news” promoted by Russia. As Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff put it, “Russia” promoted “discord in the US by inflaming passions on a range of divisive issues” and sought to “mobilize real Americans to sign online petitions and join rallies and protests.” The basic problem, however, as Schiff put it, is “not just foreign.” The algorithms used by Facebook and Twitter have the “consequence of widening divisions among our society.” Schiff complained: “What ends up percolating to the top of our feeds tends to be things we were looking for,” as opposed to US government propaganda disseminated by the establishment media, which he referred to as “true information.”

Cowardly New World: Alternative Media Under Attack By Algorithms

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By Kollibri Terre Sonnenblume for Counter Punch – An insidious assault is underway against alternative media on the internet. Leftist and progressive websites have been suffering significant declines in traffic. Some have had online income sources cut. Many others have been publicly defamed. Who is behind this onslaught? Must be Trump and the Republicans, right? Nope. It was started by the Democratic leadership during the 2016 election campaign and is being executed by liberal-leaning tech giants, mainly Google and Facebook. Essential to the fight has been the mainstream media, which has been doing what it does best: fanning the flames of fear. Lest you think I am painting a picture of a tightly-organized, top-down conspiracy here, let me assure you that I am not. Some right-wing alternative media outlets have been doing so, because they too have been attacked by the same parties and that’s where they go with it, but they miss key aspects of the big picture. (I.e., anyone who believes Obama was a Marxist has a lot to learn!) By naming the Democratic leadership, tech companies and mainstream media, I am merely pointing at participants, not describing a cabal, though they are certainly united in the common concerns of their class. The trouble started about a year ago, just after the election, when the “fake news” meme suddenly surged through mainstream media channels.

Digital Denied: Systemic Discrimination Keeps Communities Offline

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By Dana Floberg for Freepress – Internet access is a necessity for engaging in our communities, searching for employment and seeking out educational opportunities — but too many people are still stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. And that divide disproportionately impacts people of color. Indeed, the racial divide in home-internet adoption — including both wired and wireless service — leaves people of color behind the digital curve. People of color comprise 32 million of the 69 million people in the United States who lack any form of home-internet access. On Tuesday, Free Press released a new report, Digital Denied, which exposes this undeniable gap and explains how structural racial discrimination contributes to it. Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner authored the study. Systemic discrimination creates serious income inequality in this country. Whites have far higher average incomes than Blacks or Latinos. Low-income families are less able and willing to buy internet subscriptions. And many families who are willing to pay for service find they can’t due to racially biased barriers like credit scoring. Given how stark racial and ethnic income discrepancies are, it’s no surprise that people of color lag behind in internet adoption.

FCC’s DDoS Claims Will Be Investigated By Government

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By Jon Brodkin for ARS Technica – The FCC’s public comment website suffered an outage on May 8, just as the commission was receiving an influx of pro-net neutrality comments spurred by comedian John Oliver’s HBO segment on the topic. The FCC attributed the downtime solely to “multiple” DDoS attacks and said the attacks were “deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host.” However, the FCC has repeatedly thwarted efforts to obtain more details on the attacks and the commission’s response to them. Net neutrality activist group Fight for the Future released a petition asking if the FCC “invent[ed] a fake DDoS attack to cover up the fact that they lost comments from net neutrality supporters.” Schatz and Pallone asked the GAO to find out what evidence the FCC used to determine that a cyberattack took place and what documentation the FCC developed during its investigation. The Democratic lawmakers also want the GAO to examine whether the FCC is prepared to prevent future attacks. The GAO decision to investigate was reported by Politico last week. When contacted by Ars, a GAO spokesperson did not say exactly what topics the investigation will cover. The investigation also won’t start for another few months, so the answer probably won’t come until after the FCC makes a final decision on rescinding net neutrality rules.

For The Good Of All, Congress Must Ensure Net Neutrality

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By Jimmy Lee for Crains Chicago Business – In less than a generation, the internet has grown from a curiosity—”something cool you gotta see”—to a core requirement of modern life—”something critical you gotta have.” Education, jobs, social connection, entertainment, culture and politics have all moved almost entirely online. Most of the big national employers do not take paper job applications anymore and even the most basic rights like social protest and citizen organizing have gone digital. Black Lives Matters is a movement, but there’s no denying it’s also a hashtag. As an investor in and adviser to socially-minded startups—and as a parent of two young children—I spend a lot of time grappling with the question of how we can build a better world for the next generation. As the digital revolution remakes almost every aspect of our lives, it’s more clear than ever that any forward-looking agenda must focus on expanding digital access and participation. We cannot build a more equal America, or a future with greater opportunity and economic mobility, if large numbers of Americans are stuck on the wrong side of a growing digital divide. The components of such an agenda are relatively straightforward and well understood. We must encourage the broadest possible effort to build new networks and wire unserved communities and give every American an affordable pathway to high-speed internet access.

The Future Of The Internet Is Up For Grabs — Theoretically

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By Ryan Barwick for The Center for Public Integrity – The Trump administration is weighing one of the most significant rulings on how the internet will operate in the future — broadly affecting both the U.S. economy and how Americans get crucial information — but the decision is already a foregone conclusion. Unlike three years ago, when Washington was abuzz over the Federal Communications Commission enshrining net neutrality into hard-set rules, this time around it’s crickets. And that has net-neutrality supporters worried. The FCC, led by Ajit Pai, whom President Donald Trump appointed this year, has proposed killing the net-neutrality rules the agency passed under the Obama administration in 2015. Those regulations prohibited internet providers such as Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. from favoring certain online content, or charging firms like Netflix or Facebook Inc. to deliver their offerings at faster speeds. The rules, shepherded through by then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, treated the internet more like a public utility needed by everyone, like regular telephone service or power, which are regulated by the government. When Wheeler, a Democrat whom President Barack Obama appointed in 2013, proposed those rules, progressive consumer advocates were thrilled by the idea — but internet providers were livid.

Five Reasons To Fire FCC Chairman Pai

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By Timothy Karr for The Huffington Post – The Senate majority is charging forward with plans to vote to reconfirm Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for another five years. Rehiring Pai to head the agency that oversees U.S. communications policies would be a boon for the phone and cable companies he eagerly serves. But it would hurt everyone else who needs this agency to put our communications rights before the profits of monopoly-minded media giants. Usually nominations to agencies like the FCC sail through without a dissenting vote. But based on the last five years he spent at the agency (and his past eight months as designated chairman), it’s clear Pai doesn’t deserve another term. That’s why Free Press Action Fund is urging the Senate to reject Trump’s nominee. And it’s why thousands of people are calling Capitol Hill before the vote — expected as soon as Monday — and asking their senators to fire Pai. And for good reason. Pai had barely taken his seat before making a hard turn even further to the far right. He often claims he bases FCC decisions on evidence — and then ignores any fact that conflicts with his entrenched ideology and prejudices. (And he’s tried to smear critics like Free Press as fringe groups when they dare to point out basic facts he’s deliberately omitting.)

It’s Time For Congress To Fire The FCC Chairman

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By Gigi Sohn for The Verge – FCC chairman Ajit Pai is genuinely one of the nicest people in Washington. He’s smart, personable, and the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. But nice guys don’t always make good policy (I’ve been bipartisan on this), and Pai’s record means real danger for American consumers and the internet itself. If you believe communications networks should be fast, fair, open, and affordable, you need ask your senator to vote against Pai’s reconfirmation. Now. The Senate vote on Pai is imminent. When it happens, it will be a stark referendum on the kind of communications networks and consumer protections we want to see in this country. Senators can choose a toothless FCC that will protect huge companies, allow them to further consolidate, charge higher prices with worsening service, and a create bigger disconnect between broadband haves and have-nots. Or, they can vote for what the FCC is supposed to do: protect consumers, promote competition, and ensure access for all Americans, including the most vulnerable. It shouldn’t be a hard decision, and what we’ve seen over the past eight months makes the stakes clear. Below are just a few of the Pai FCC’s most harmful actions, which should help make your decision to contact your senator clear, too.

‘Team Internet’ Mobilizing Thousands Of Net Neutrality Activists Across The Country To Meet With Lawmakers

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By Mark Stanley for Demand Progress – Across the country, Team Internet volunteers like Platt are meeting with lawmakers, turning up at rallies, attending mass calls and coordinating with other activists in ways they’ve never before been able to do. “There are so many crucial issues people are engaging in right now, from healthcare to advocating for racial justice. At the end of the day, folks know if their free speech is curtailed because we don’t have strong Net Neutrality protections, organizing on these issues will be extremely difficult,” said Demand Progress Director of Operations and Communications Mark Stanley. “We’re seeing an unprecedented number of activists take time out of their busy lives to meet with lawmakers and their staff on this issue. Net Neutrality is vital for our civil discourse, our democracy and organizing on issues that impact people’s daily lives, and people are willing to fight for it now more than ever,” said Stanley. “Wherever you go, you can feel the energy and enthusiasm for Net Neutrality. Students, doctors, software engineers, lawyers and more are volunteering their time because they want a free and open internet. They’re gathering at lawmakers’ offices, protesting outside of speeches by FCC Chairman Pai, taking part in conference calls to learn more about the connections between Net Neutrality and racial justice, and connecting online and off to plan their next steps,” said Free Press Field Director Mary Alice Crim.