by Matthew L. Schafer
In front of a crowd of 2,000 bloggers and citizen activists at Netroots Nation last week, Sen. Al Franken [D-MN] delivered an explosive speech about media consolidation, Net Neutrality and corporate influence over policy. “Now, corporations with government permission pose the greatest threat to your First Amendment rights,” he said.
Franken was not only citing the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United decision, which will allow corporations to inject millions of dollars into the election process, but also the likely ramifications of the proposed Comcast-NBC Universal merger on free speech and the open Internet.
“If no one stops them how long to do you think it would take before four or five corporations effectively control the flow of information in America not only on television, but online?” Franken asked his audience.
A prominent opponent of the Comcast-NBC merger, Franken argued that it could open the door to even more mega mergers that would unite on a massive scale content creators and content distributors, while relegating independent content to the dark corners of the Internet and other platforms. A merger like Comcast-NBC, Franken said, is likely to lead to the favoring of corporate content over that of individuals.
Without vital Net Neutrality protections, and tough but fair regulation for corporations like Comcast, Franken sees a dark future where the flow of information in the United States will be controlled by just a few multinational corporations. Without Net Neutrality and other protections, Franken told the Netroots audience that the foundation of their movement – the open Internet – is next in line for a corporate takeover.
Franken repeatedly brought attention to the Comcast/NBCU merger, saying that empty promises from both Comcast and NBCU are not going to be enough. Instead, he said, it is absolutely necessary to proceed with the greatest amount of caution and skepticism.
“If we don’t protect Net Neutrality now, how long do you think it will take before Comcast-NBC Universal, or Verizon-CBS Viacom or AT&T-ABC-DirecTV or BP-Haliburton-Walmart-Fox-Domino’s-Pizza start favoring its content over everyone else’s?” Franken said.
If the government and the people do not voice their opposition to the Comcast-NBC merger, it is all too possible the media landscape will be dotted with even larger mega companies that control every form of our communications systems. Franken argued that the Comcast merger is just the first domino in a line of future mergers that will stifle innovation, investment, and Internet freedom.
“If it falls, the rest will soon follow,” he said. “It’s almost too late to stop this from happening, but not quite.”
Note: A version of this report originally appeared on the website Stop Big Media.