Coalition Plans to Fight Lax Telecom Law


Washington -- If Congress drafts a new telecommunications law, a range of consumer, civil-rights and public-interest groups is demanding that lawmakers consider the interests of millions of Americans not represented by Washington lawyers and lobbyists who spend lavishly to extract political favors.

“We need democratic principles to guide these changes in law, not interest groups that give the most money,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy at Consumers Union.

The groups claimed that in passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress failed to deliver lower prices and greater choice. Instead, the law ushered in an era of media and telecommunications consolidation and, in the case of cable, higher retail prices.

“We do not want to repeat history,” Common Cause president Chellie Pingree said. “This time, 20 million people want a seat at the table, and we’re here to make sure that happens.”

A total of 30 groups in all -- including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the United Church of Christ and the AFL-CIO -- have formed the Media and Democracy Coalition in an effort to keep the Internet free from corporate control, to spur minority media ownership and to force broadcasters to do a better job covering local issues and elections.

“The public and those who have historically been excluded and economically marginalized must have a voice in the process,” said former FCC member Gloria Tristani, managing director of the office of communication of the UCC.

The coalition, unveiled a press conference here, is hoping that the power of its ideas will trump the financial advantage of its opponents.

“The industry has all of the money, there is no question. We do not. We have people who now understand what is at risk,” Kimmelman said.