Remarks of Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps

Thank you for your welcome. This is always my favorite conference anywhere. Really. From that first one that started us rolling in Madison, Wisconsin, 10 years ago to the music of the “Tell the Truth Tour” through St. Louis, Memphis, Minneapolis, Boston and now Denver. I’ve been to them all and they just keep getting better. So thanks to Free Press: to Craig Aaron who runs it with a wonderful combination of passion and action; to its founders who made Free Press a force to be reckoned with — Bob McChesney, John Nichols, Josh Silver and Ben Scott. Talk about leaders who make a difference! This country owes each one of them more than we could ever repay— although I’ll bet they would happily settle for media of, by and for the American people as their reward.

As a commissioner at the FCC for more than a decade, I traveled to plenty of conferences and conventions where I usually ran into a lot of special interest types in stuffy suits running up huge tabs on their expense accounts and spending all their time complaining about the evils of public interest oversight and consumer protection. They crowed on and on about the virtues of the extremely free market even as they begged for ever more government handouts in the form of regulatory giveaways and merger approvals.

We know what happened. They built their monopolies all across media, from newspapers, television and cable now to broadband access and the Internet itself. They decimated journalism; threw tens of thousands of reporters out on the street; dumbed down our news; and short-circuited the civic dialogue Americans must have if we are to have any shot of overcoming the seriously daunting challenges threatening our country today.

The special interests bought elections. Co-opted the legislative process. Wrote the laws and rules they wanted in Washington and, working with ALEC, in the statehouses. Got government to shirk its number one job — citizen protection — and made billions of dollars for themselves in the process. They had their way with our democracy.

But I do believe change is coming. We all thought it was coming after the 2008 election. But in media — and elsewhere — reform got derailed. It’s getting back on track. Partly because of groups like Free Press and Common Cause and many others, but mostly because of citizens like you.

I hear the voices of diversity beginning to sing — don’t you? I hear a rising chorus of citizen power against the outlandish role of money in politics — don’t you? I hear people everywhere I go saying, “Enough!” Enough of media monopolies. Enough of broadband cartels. Enough of locked cellphones and data caps. Enough of Big Telecom telling communities they can’t build their own broadband networks even as those same big companies refuse to serve them. Enough of all this nonsense about how free markets all by themselves built this country when, in fact, we built it together. Enough of shutting minorities, diversity groups and women out of the opportunity to own, or even be treated fairly on, our media.

And enough, enough, enough of the Federal Communications Commission blessing industry’s cancerous monopolization of our news and information infrastructure! People are saying “Enough” because the ills we reformers predicted for so long have become tangible and costly realities for millions of Americans in their everyday lives.

After meeting with legions of activists around the country and here in Denver, there is not a doubt in my mind that we are at a tipping point in our crusade. There is no doubt in my mind that we can attain the critical mass necessary for real reform. And there is not a doubt in my mind that you and I are fighting to win.

We fight confident that even in this era, when so few control so outrageously much, we the people can still determine our own future. We fight knowing that, in the final analysis, reform — the kind of thoroughgoing, democratic change America needs right now — doesn’t come from the top down, a gift from Washington to you. It comes from the grassroots up, it comes because the people demand it, organize for it — and then work their asses off for it.

That’s always been the story of true reform in America. That’s where civil rights, women’s rights, worker rights, disability rights and LGBT rights have come from. From you. From the heartland. From people who have had enough. This reform whose time has come.

Say this after me: “It’s not just yes we can. It’s hell yes we will!”

Thank you.

Now let me welcome to this podium someone who is not only a good friend, but a courageous and formidable voice — a voice that is increasingly listened to — against the havoc communications monopolies have wreaked upon America.

Professor, lawyer, public servant and author, Susan Crawford has a great new book out. It’s called Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. You need to read it. But first, you need to help me welcome her and show her how much we appreciate her fight for us.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good