Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's Only TV....

On a internet board dedicated to satellite TV, someone who was upset with media conglomerate power over federal regulations posted some complaints. Another board member responded: "It's only TV...." That pushed my satellite-tv-user rant button as follows:

In 1878 home entertainment did not include radio, tv, movies, recorded music, or the internet. People had the options of getting together to talk, sing and play musical instruments, play games, quilt, etc. Solitary activities could include some of the aforementioned, plus reading. They got their news from newspapers and magazines. To see performers of any kind, they had to leave their homes, but for most people the renowned performers of the day generally were out of reach without a significant amount of money and time devoted to travel.

Fifty years later, 1928, things had begun to change. Within the home people could hear professional performers on phonograph records and radios. They could get almost instant news on the radio and a much greater percentage could see some renowned performers of the day at a movie theater.

Twenty years later, 1948, home entertainment had shifted. In most homes, records and radio had begun to dominate entertainment activities. The local movie theater had become an important communal center for experiencing professional performances on a shared basis.

By 1958, just ten years later, television had changed all of that. Two year later Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon solidified the political implications of mass media first used effectively by Roosevelt and Hitler. And George W.'s people used it well, if corruptly, against John McCain in South Carolina in 2000.

It really took 40 years, 1998, for the internet to begin to be an additional home entertainment and mass communication option. It hasn't replaced TV, however, as the significant medium. And two or more Americas exist relative to these home entertainment and mass media delivery systems.

My kids and their kids live in urban areas. They have ready access to all the out-of-home alternatives - concerts, theater, theme parks, etc. They also have access to all the tv options: off-the-air, cable, satellite, and the new phone companies. And they have access to the highest speed internet options.

For many Americans who - by fate or choice - live in rural areas, satellite tv is the only access to the home entertainment choices available to their urban cousins. Yet it is the barely tolerated step-child of the media industry, a concession to both the appearance of fairness in free enterprise and the need to access the rural market. The same discrepancy exists relative to high speed internet. These times are most certainly not like the 1930's when the federal government deliberately facilitated through regulation and funding universal access to electricity and telephone service, as it did for highways in the 1950's.

When I got my first Echostar C-band dish in 1988, I really enjoyed access to regional news feeds from other parts of the country and Canadian television - it opened up new windows on the world. On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 pm PDT, a major earthquake known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area and the Monterey Bay Area. We were living well north of the impacted area but had three adult children in the San Francisco area and a parent in Monterey County. The SFO stations went off the air and the phone system did its usual crash leaving us with no information. But with my C-band satellite we could scan and get live satellite feeds from nearby Sacramento stations, as well as national networks because they were broadcasting the World Series from Candlestick Park. At the time, I thought: "Wow, this is the way to go. What a public benefit an open satellite system could become in times of crises." Plus the possibility of improving understanding between people from different locations seemed endless though we'd have to pay for it.

Not long after that, access to local feeds begin to disappear off C-band. Canadian tv was blocked by American networks by legal means without any consideration of the moral issue of limiting access to information. I finally switched to the small dish when the C-band box failed. Through that, in the 9-11 situation, I could get at least local takes from NY stations without having the drama queens and kings of network tv filter the news.

But that came to a screeching halt in order to protect the economic interests of "fictitious people" known a corporations that now thought they "owned" the airwaves the government had licensed to them on behalf of me, originally with strict public service requirements which had been eliminated.

Most satellite users now can get the Fishing and Playboy Channels if they want. But most of us have no access to federally licensed local programming in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida. No one seems to care that we are prohibited by federal law from being allowed to see what the locals in these important presidential primary states are seeing on their tv. It isn't that it couldn't be delivered, as local channels from those states are being delivered to satel- lite tv users in those states, it is that I am prohibited from seeing those signals by the government.

Yes, it is only television to some. But not to me. It is my principal home entertainment, with access not only to tv shows but movies and concerts. It is still a principal source of crises news. Not regular news, though. The style of reporting daily news is, with government approval, controlled by the preferences of an Australian whose only real concern is that media make him richer and his opinions more powerful.

So for daily news I have to depend on the internet now. And I'm using it more for entertainment. But the government has already allowed the same conglomerates to gain control of that delivery system. And while they haven't quite yet figured out what to do with it, they are rapidly learning to squeeze it for money and control it for power....

The one and only advantage of those dependant on satellite tv service should be access to distant networks. "They" took it away. Imagine if the Viacoms of the world could triple cable profits and double their related networks advertising profits by offering network programming from all four time zones in all four time zones while not fatally impacting the local stations. We would all be getting "distants" because federal regulations would be changed not on behalf of the public, but on behalf of corporate interests.

Yeah, it's only TV.

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