A spectrum or airwaves trust would have a distinct mission: to reduce the
influence of corporations on our democracy. Its economic and ecological
impacts could be significant (reducing corporate political influence will
improve many policies), but they’re secondary to the political objective.
According to a study by the New America Foundation, the market value of
the airwave licenses we’ve given free to corporate broadcasters is
roughly $500 billion. It’s possible this value will decline as unlicensed
wi-fi spreads, but meanwhile broadcasters sell our airwaves to advertisers
and reap billions that belong, at least in part, to all of us.
Part of that money comes from political candidates who must purchase TV
and radio ads to get elected. The problem isn’t so much the unearned
windfall broadcasters collect; rather, it’s the fact that candidates
are compelled to pay it to them. That makes politicians kowtow to corporate
donors in order to pay broadcasters. Other democracies give free airtime
to political candidates, but we protect the broadcasters’ lock on our
airwaves. By privatizing our airwaves, in other words, we’ve effectively
privatized our democracy. The job of a spectrum trust would be to take back
our democracy by taking back our airwaves.
This could be done in a couple of ways. One wouldn’t require an actual
trust: Congress could simply say that, in exchange for free spectrum licenses,
broadcasters must give a certain amount of free airtime to political candidates.
Alternatively, broadcasters could pay for their licenses, with revenue going
to a nonpartisan trust. That trust would allocate funds to candidates for
the purchase of TV and radio ads; the allocation formula would take account
of cost differences between media markets and other relevant variables. Neither
of these approaches would prevent corporations from lobbying or contributing
to candidates’ other expenses, but they would
level the political playing field by greatly reducing
have to raise
to get elected. ... read
the whole chapter