We experience the world through stories.
Whoever tells the stories of a culture defines the terms,
the agenda, and the common issues we face.
It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community.
Now its a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell,
but a great deal to sell.
George Gerbner

When radio was first making its debut there was very little in the way of regulations, but as broadcasting started growing rapidly in the 1920’s, interference became a problem and there was a clamor from both the broadcasters and the public to resolve the problems. During the 1920’s, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover tried many voluntary solutions, with even the broadcasters acknowledging that broadcasting should be in the public interest. Voluntary cooperation did not work well, but in the end it required the passage of the Radio Act of 1927 that was signed by President Calvin Coolidge 5 days after enactment. This act set up a new regulatory agency, the Federal Radio Commission to deal with the problems through the assignment of frequency bands, terms of licenses, and power output regulation. The interesting part of this act is that it “asserted a public interest in broadcasting and public ownership of the airwaves, extended considerable rule making capability to the Commission, and provided Commissioners with considerable discretion to decide questions of law and policy”i The beginnings of radio regulation recognized the fact that the airways or radio spectrum were a GIFT to us all, were part of the commons, and that it should be used for the benefit of the public. It did not take long before criticism of both Hoover and the Federal Radio Commission accused them of favoring industry interests over that of the public.

The key point here that Congress intended the airways be considered part of public property or the commons with rights to utilize it being granted on a case by case basis for a limited time period and that the use of the radio spectrum or airways was to be in the interests of the public. In 1934 the outdated Federal Radio Commission was replaced with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and many of the same struggles between public and private rights are still evident today.

Today we are faced with a concentration of corporate media ownership that essentially limits the issues that are covered and considered by the society. “In 1983, 50 companies owned 90 percent of the media consumed by Americans. By 2012, just six companies — including Fox (then part of News Corporation) and Time Warner — controlled that 90 percent, according to testimony before the House Judiciary Committee examining Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal.”ii As Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Reagan wrote: “ Despite glaring inconsistencies, contradictions, and security failures that seem too unlikely to be believable, the “mainstream media” never asks questions or investigates. It merely reports as fact whatever authorities say.”

To counter this people can access the alternative media outlets that are proliferating across the Internet. Since many of these alternative outlets do not have the huge budgets of the corporate outlets, the journalistic professionalism may not be as high as it should. It becomes important to be able to discern between actual news reporting and opinion that can masquerade as fact. This fact vs. opinion is not limited to the alternative media, but is also an issue with the main stream media as well. What people can do is to offer their voluntary financial support to those alternative outlets that are providing the news that the 90% are not. If one’s entire source of information is the corporate media, only a very slanted understanding of the issues will result. Just observe the recent alarming rise in censorship that can be clearly seen. What has happened is that much of the public airways have been essentially privatized in the service of those seeking profit. It is important to remain vigilant on FCC decisions, because just as with the Federal Radio Commission, the commissioners on the FCC are appointed by politicians who favor those who have agendas that favor the industry, rather than the people.

Because of the need for these alternative sources for our news, it is imperative that all of them have equal access to the Internet. The battle for this equal access is what is commonly referred to as “Net Neutrality”. Wikipedia describes Net Neutrality as “Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” It is critical that the Internet remain free of “toll roads” if it is to continue in the form we have so grown used to.

Tim Berners-Lee

During the early days of the Internet as an Educational/Scientific/Military cooperative endeavor, the Internet was a closed system the general public did not have access to. By the late 1980s, commercial Internet Service Providers were able to connect to it. But the big break came when Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, the European organization for Nuclear Research posted a short summary of his view of a large hypertext database with type links as a way for physicists to share information. He proposed a system of a World Wide Web of documents all connected via hypertext links. By the end of 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had developed the first Web Browser and had it running on a server at CERN. By 1991, the World Wide Web went live, and while most of the world did not even know what the Internet was at that time, it was quickly recognized grew and became the huge social force it is today.

The beauty of this is that Tim Berners-Lee did not seek to profit by his work. He could have obtained a patent charged license fees or tried to collect royalties, as many other had done to amass fortunes far beyond what any individual would need. Tim Berners-Lee took his work and GIFTED the world.

Had the World Wide Web contained restrictions and licensing, it may have gone the way of Gopher, an early type of search engine. At one time Gopher was the top of the search tools, but once the Internet community got wind of the fact that Gopher planned to charge fees for its services, that sent the message of rejecting the open-source model. Ultimately it lost its preeminence and most people today have not even heard of Gopher.

Some of the key points in this chapter have involved making the current corporate model obsolete and therefore reducing its control over us, however, in this particular area it is more difficult to accomplish this and thus requires vigilance and political activism to safe guard the GIFT of the Internet that was given to us. One organization that protects the digital rights of the public is the Electronic Frontier Foundation.iii I would encourage all readers to visit this site and sign up for their email alert system. There are those who would like to take our GIFTS from us and use them for their own self-serving motives. The Internet is a tool that will continue to evolve and its effectiveness for helping light workers to form communities and help spread positive energy must be vigorously protected.

Older forms of communication are still important as well and can provide resilience to a community should digital electronic communication fail for some reason. If your community has a local newspaper, consider getting a subscription. A well run and accurate local newspaper is a wonderful resource for a community and helps to connect people together. Your subscription will be a GIFT to your community and will support a local resource, while also helping you know better what is happening in your area. It becomes easier to become involved in your local community when you have knowledge of the issues and events that affect it.

Another interesting older form of communication is that of ham radio operators. Ham radio has been around since the dawn of the radio age and can provide both local and world wide communication completely independent of the complex networks that form the backbone of the telephone and Internet system. Ham radio has proven itself to be a valuable tool when disaster strikes and the more commonly used forms of communication are down. Having ham radio capability provides a community another layer of self-sufficiency as covered earlier in this posting. The number of ham radio licenses in the U.S. is now at an all-time high.iv Even if you are not a ham yourself, most communities have ham radio clubs that welcome visitors. The ham radio spectrum allocation is a wonderful example of the public use of the GIFT of the airways. However, it is also under threat by commercial interests that would like to take it away from the public and use it for profit. This is another example of the commons being threatened by private interests and we again must remain vigilant that the FCC represents the people and not the corporations.

Another area that local communities can become more self-sufficient and break dependence on the huge corporate monoliths is by providing their own Internet access to their residents. In the U.S. our broadband connectivity is significantly behind that of many developed nations. In fact Romania, Latvia, and Bulgaria all have faster Internet connectivity than the U.S.v, while paying significantly less for this faster connectivity. In some rural areas, there is are no options for broadband connectivity. The reason for this problem is because in the U.S. there is little competition between the cable providers. Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC said in a speech: “Stop and let that sink in: Three-quarters of American homes have no competitive choice for the essential infrastructure for 21st-century economics and democracy,”vi

This is the end result of decisions made by many municipalities during the early days of cable. Many municipalities provided monopoly franchise protection to the companies that submitted the highest bid. While this may have worked well for the municipality with the short term financial windfall from these companies, however the residents lost in the long term. During the building of the cable infrastructure, the companies enjoyed monopoly protection and were generally regulated to some degree. Once the infrastructure was in place, these companies wanted to be free of regulation to maximize their profits.

Because of infrastructure costs many cities did not grant multiple franchises, so generally each company stayed in its own assigned franchise area. They initially competed for these franchises, but once these were won, the companies started looking for communities that had not yet been wired yet. Eventually after all of the communities were wired, instead of competing with each other, they instead starting merging and acquiring other cable companies. The end result of this process is that now most U.S. cities do not have a choice of cable companies. With no competition, there was little incentive to keep prices down and to upgrade connectivity speeds.

However, there is another option. There are currently 101 cities that have banded together and they are bringing their residents gigabit speed Internet connectivity. They are part of a coalition called Next Century Cities.vii This organization invites cities to join Next Century Cities and will support the efforts of mayors and other officials as they navigate the technical and political obstacles in bringing fast, affordable, and reliable Internet to their communities.

I recall my days when I was working as the Director of Technology for a school district that was transitioning from low technology integration to high technology integration. I seriously considered the fact that the school district could provide lower cost and higher speed Internet connectivity to the students and their parents in their homes. However, the transition that was taking place involved so much effort to accomplish successfully with limited manpower, leaving me and my staff overwhelmed with issues that needed attention. My research into this idea uncovered significant technical, regulatory, and political barriers. Ultimately, I was confident that we could have overcome the technical and regulatory obstacles. However, the political barriers would have involved the push back that would have taken place as the cable companies would have used their economic clout to suppress any competition to their profits. In the end the school district which was already on a very tight budget, would probably have failed in any attempt to out-muscle the cable providers. What I would have given to know that a resource and community like Next Century Cities would be there to provide guidance and support in such in an endeavor. In the end, the significant barriers, the staff shortage, and the fact that support networks such as Next Century Cities did not exist at that time, I abandoned the idea and continued to focus on my primary task of successfully integrating technology into our teaching practices.

Today, with the support of Next Century Cities available, there is no reason for a municipality not to at least explore providing Internet connectivity to its residents. When you consider the importance of the Internet in building our communities, for education, for local business, and other benefits, it becomes imperative to ensure that we are not dependent on effectively large monopolies to deliver this resource to our communities. If your community in not providing this connectivity, your leaders may not even be aware of the support that is available. Engage yourself in your community, inform your elected officials, and GIFT yourself and your community with the personal connections that will come from your engagement with your community.


iMessere, Fritz. “Encyclopedia of Radio Regulation.” SUNY Oswego. Web. <>. Page 3

iiJames. “When Media Mergers Limit More Than Competition.” The New York Times. The New York Times, Feb 25 2014. Web. <>


iv“ARRL.” US Amateur Radio Numbers Reach an All-Time High. 4 Mar. 2015. Web.

vStenovec, Tim. “The US Is Way behind Much of the World When It Comes to Internet Speeds.” Tech Insider. 25 Sept. 2015. Web.

viWheeler, Tom. “The Facts and Future of Broadband Competition.” 4 Sept. 2014. Web. <>.