Nov 95 Vendors: Lexis-Nexis

GT: Congress currently has telecommunications reform bills in conference committee. What are some of your concerns with regard to consumer protection as the bills move closer to law? Nader: One is access, one is price and the third is the ability to form our own networks. We're confronting the opposite trends now in Congress, which is obliterating the barrier between the conduit and content. Here's a bill that is supposed to create competition but ends up promoting monopoly power where telephone companies can buy cable and vice versa. Plus they can buy wireless, and the bill endorses closed networks like existing cable systems. This centralizes more power in a weaker Federal Communications Commission, which is still over the state and local regulators. It eliminates the diversity of enforcement strategies that states have been involved in, and the FCC is not willing or capable of doing any regulation. If you had the principles of consumer protection you'd have competition, and a barrier between companies owning both. Which of course is what the Disney and ABC, TCI and Turner mergers are about. That's what happens when you have a cable company with an economic interest in programs, an investment program. You have to protect competition in carrier markets. Likewise, give states more authority to protect consumers so that Americans are not required to put all their eggs in one weak FCC basket. GT: What do you think about the authority being given to state and local government by Congress for consumer protection? Nader: You have the ultimate political hypocrisy for the Republican right wingers in Congress who talk about state rights and devolving powers, which Gingrich has said repeatedly. They are doing just the opposite in this area. They're moving toward preemption, concentrating, stripping the state and local authorities of any power over these industries. The locals should organize on this. GT: Regarding local cable franchising and public access channels - you advocate some changes in the way public access channels are run. Would you explain? Nader: We should have a diverse pattern in licensing. For example, there should be licenses not just to existing TV and radio stations, but to cooperative models of audience networks where people would program their own part of the spectrum time - one hour prime time a night, with dues-paying members to support studios, reporters and producers. What we should get is an audience network with one hour prime time [that] reverts back to a congressionally chartered organization. It can be called the Audience Network, open to anybody who wants to join it, with five-dollar minimum dues a year. They elect the council directors, regional councils, and hire the staff and set up the studios so that there is very intelligent, non-Nielsen, non-advertising agency-determined programming. People become more electronically literate, there's a decentralization in people's ability to put programs on, develop programs, develop good facilities. That's reciprocity. What is the reciprocity for the cable license? Nothing. You could say one reciprocity is going to be a requirement that five times a day on each cable channel, there is a notice inviting cable viewers to join their own statewide cable viewer's organization with full time staff to deal with complaints, rates, programs, etc. There are certain reciprocities now in terms of public access studios, but they're very, very modest. We're heading toward 500 cable channels and we have no student channel, labor channel, college student channel, consumer channel, citizen action channel. We should have all these channels instead of 1,500 different home shopping and movie rerun channels. We should have these channels to enrich our democratic society. People could turn to the consumer channel because on a certain day every week they tell me what buying groups I can join in order to get a better bargaining power. Or I have a real problem in our community, so I'll turn on the citizen's action