The InsiderOne Daily Report

  Monday, March 5, 2001

Freedom From Choice

InsiderOne's Michael Goldberg writes: There's a system of rules and regulations in America that allows those with truly deep pockets to do things that would land the rest of us in prison. Those with enough money can actually get a law changed, or influence the way courts — even our highest court — decide a case. Not always; just sometimes. With the president-who-wasn't-really-elected in power (Greil Marcus has called it "the last election"), this will probably happen more frequently. The other day a federal appeals court struck down a ruling that barred a single company from owning more than 30% of the cable and satellite market; it also ended regulations that limited those same companies from producing more than 40% of the programming for their cable or satellite systems. AT&T and AOL Time Warner are now free to gobble up the markets they don't already control. In December those who dominate the radio airwaves — our airwaves, the airwaves of American citizens — got their way again. Congress shot down the plans of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to license more non-commercial low-power stations; those who gross over $15 billion by broadcasting advertisements over those same airwaves had argued that more low-power stations would interfere with their signals (i.e. the flow of dollars into their corporate coffers). Will the Internet be next? I can't help wondering about the lengths to which the entertainment corporations are willing to go to protect their precious copyrights, now that they have an administration bowing down before the corporate gods. Bush's new FCC chairman, Michael K. Powell, has indicated that he doesn't believe cable companies should have to limit the percentage of the market they control, and unlike his predecessor, he is no advocate of low-power radio. Perhaps we should expect a law allowing our government — or maybe just licensed corporations — to examine all files (email, music, whatever) that flow across the Net. How else to prevent little Mooky from using his DSL connection to send his buddy the new Buckcherry album? What's especially ironic is that the public doesn't seem to care about any of this, having apparently been trained — programmed? — by the broadcasters to lap up mediocrity and think it's worth having. Last week I sat with three business associates, extremely intelligent young men who, from what I know, have good taste. Yet there they were, telling me how much they like the cable channel "MTV2," which they describe as "like MTV in the early days, when it was good." Now, I've been watching MTV since the early days. It was never good. But if you grew up watching MTV, you have a different sensibility. And, as the advertising community learned many years ago, what you see on television impacts both your consciousness and your subconscious. The ever-adaptable human learns to like junk, be it food or programming. It's natural that a generation raised on "Real World" would buy into "Survivor." From a corporate perspective, the trick is to let you think you have a choice, when no matter which channel you choose to watch, you're getting pretty much the same thing. You actually have no choice. Unless, of course, you opt out, which a lot of people are doing. In recent years, I've seen statistics that show a correlation between less TV viewing and more time spent online. I take that to mean that people want something else, some other form of entertainment, or communication, or contact. Of course, wherever large numbers of people go, corporations follow. They'll do their best to own the Net too, one way or another.

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Michael Goldberg is the president of He founded Addicted To Noise in 1994.

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