Matt L. Barron: Markey’s telecommunications law has been harmful

Published: 6/17/2020 3:48:33 PM

During his reelection campaign, Sen. Ed Markey has often bragged about how proud he is of perhaps his most significant legislative accomplishment in his 43 years in Washington — the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

At the time, this law, which was the first major overhaul of telecommunications policy since the Communications Act of 1934, which created the Federal Communications Commission, was supposed to deliver more competition, more diversity, more jobs and lower prices for consumers and ratepayers. It did the exact opposite.

The legislation was supposed to save consumers $550 billion, including $333 billion in lower long-distance rates, $32 billion in lower local phone rates, and $78 billion in lower cable bills. But cable rates have surged by about 50%, and local phone rates went up more than 20%. Industries supporting the new legislation predicted it would add 1.5 million jobs and boost the economy by $2 trillion. By 2003, however, telecommunications’ companies’ market value had fallen by about $2 trillion, and they had shed half a million jobs.

Markey’s law also lifted the limit on how many radio stations one company could own. The cap had been set at 40 stations. It made possible the creation of radio giants like Clear Channel, with more than 1,200 stations, and led to a substantial drop in the number of minority station owners, homogenization of play lists, and less local news. The act also reduced broadcasters’ accountability to the public by extending the term of a broadcast license from five to eight years, and made it more difficult for citizens to challenge those license renewals.

And study after study has documented that profit-driven media conglomerates are investing less in news and information, and that local news in particular is failing to provide viewers with the information they need to participate in their democracy.

Since 1997, just eight of the country’s largest and most powerful media and telecommunications companies, their corporate parents, and three of their trade groups, have spent more than $400 million on political contributions and lobbying in Washington, according to a Common Cause analysis of federal records.

Over the years, the BigTelecoms have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash into Markey’s coffers. Since 1989. AT&T Inc. has donated $119,645, Comcast has contributed $113,487 and DISH Network has ponied up $111,000 to our junior senator, according to data from Markey is bought and paid for by this lobby.

Here in the Hilltowns (a region of the state that Markey has still never found time to visit), we are still waiting for rural broadband because companies like Verizon won’t make the needed investment. And we are at the mercy of only two satellite TV firms (DirecTV and DISH) who raise their rates with impunity.

On Sept. 1, I’ll be cutting the cord on Markey and casting my vote for U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate.

Matt L. Barron lives in Chesterfield.
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