Why not a ‘Declaration of Independence’ for America’s public airwaves?

July 4, 2009 by Wally Bowen

[Editor’s Note: As many of you know, MAIN helped rally rural support last fall for the historic 5-0 victory at the FCC to allow unlicensed use of  vacant TV channels — the so-called ‘white spaces’ — a vote which opens the door to solving the rural broadband crisis.  This victory over corporate control of OUR public airwaves is unprecedented . . . and incomplete.  Much more work needs to be done, as the Ars Technica article below explains.

Meanwhile, some false prophets here in WNC are criticizing MAIN’s current wireless broadband service because our signal isn’t available everywhere, or because the signal can be weakened — even blocked — by the growth of heavy foliage.

As MAIN prepares to apply for federal broadband stimulus funding, these voices will grow louder because their real agenda is to:

1.  Oppose our work to create a more open and democratic media (via the Internet, low-power radio, public access TV, etc);

2.  Ensure that federal subsidies remain the exclusive cash-cow of the cable and phone companies.

We have always tried to be upfront about the limits of current wireless technology.  These limitations are why we worked so hard for access to better spectrum like the “white spaces”!

So, when you hear the false claims in the coming weeks,  please help set the record straight by citing articles like the one below or links like this one on the democratizing power of local networks:  http://www.main.nc.us/localnetworks/   Thanks so much for being part of this historic work!

Wally Bowen, Executive Director

From Ars Technica:

Unlicensed spectrum brought us wireless phones and WiFi—so why isn’t more available?  Several key thinkers behind “TV white space devices” now say that those ideas could and should be extended to many other bands.

By Nate Anderson, Ars Technica

Say you have some bright idea for the “next WiFi” and you just need a tiny little smidgen of open spectrum in which to deploy the invention that will bring cheap, easy, ubiquitous communications nirvana to everyone. Can you get it?

Generally, no. The US government squats on huge swaths of spectrum, while paid-up license holders (like cell phone service providers) control much of the rest. Slivers of spectrum are left open for unlicensed use, and those tiny bands have produced great big social benefits: wireless baby monitors, wireless phones, and WiFi.

But a set of papers from the New America Foundation argue that the Obama administration should take a different course on spectrum, making it simple for entrepreneurs to launch new wireless devices even in occupied bands. Their common credo: spectrum is abundant—if you treat it right.

Let’s start sharing . . .


On this July 4th, progressive winds are blowing

July 3, 2009 by Wally Bowen

Dear Friends of MAIN & WPVM:

As we enjoy this Independence Day weekend, change is in the air.

This spring,  I was in our nation’s capital for a series of media reform meetings.  The week’s final meeting was “Changing Media,” which was held at the Newseum and focused on the future of journalism and prospects for sweeping media reform.

Acting FCC chair Michael Copps put forth this challenge:

“Change has come to Washington, DC.  Reform breezes are blowing through the corridors of power all over this city.  And if things go well, we may be launched on an era of reform to match what the Progressives and New Dealers of the last century gave us. . . .

“But it’s no sure thing that it will end so well. Reform is never on auto-pilot, and in spite of all the marvels of 21st-century technology, there is no GPS system that can deliver us to a new, progressive promised land.”

Copps concluded: “It’s impossible to predict how long the window of reform will remain open [and] if we’re not quick about it and smart about it and thorough about it, the winds of change could blow themselves out before our job is done.  We must seize the opportunity when we have it.”

MAIN/WPVM is seizing this opportunity.  On May 12, MAIN was elected to the national Media and Democracy Coalition, one of  the first local/regional organizations to receive an MDC nomination.  We also published the “Local Network Cookbook” to help other communities replicate MAIN’s nonprofit business model for community journalism.  And on June 4, I presented this model at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications for  a global conference called “Beyond Broadcast 2009.” You can view my presentation on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBf6dMF_jiE

Through the Media and Democracy Coalition, we are also working to get the Local Community Radio Act of 2009 passed in Congress, which will — at long last– allow WPVM to increase its broadcast power and thus solve our signal problem.

Here at home, we are restructuring our volunteer program to ensure a close fit between our strategic vision and those community members who want to commit time and energy to help us pursue this vision and seize this historic moment.

You will also be hearing some exciting changes on WPVM.  We have added the pioneering healing-arts show, The People’s Pharmacy, which is heard on more than 500 stations nationwide.

And we will also help you keep an eye (and ear) on our elected officials in Raleigh via OPEN/net, the award-winning and live call-in show on N.C. legislative affairs.  Remarkably, OPEN/net has not been heard or seen in WNC since 2002!

We also have half a dozen “citizen journalists” collaborating on The Local News Show, which premiered two weeks ago.   And we want to thank Veterans’ Voices for Peace for moving their weekly broadcast to 4:30 p.m. Wednesdays to make room for The Local News Show at 5 p.m.  Both shows are re-broadcast Fridays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays 8 to 9 a.m.

We are also sharpening our focus on music from around the world, from independent labels, and especially from Asheville’s dynamic music scene.  And we are close to completing a $7,500 studio upgrade that will make broadcast operations easier for staff and volunteers — and provide, for the first time, live “call-in” capability for our listeners.

Bruce Sales, a veteran audio engineer, is serving as interim station manager.  An Asheville native, Bruce is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston and worked for 15 years in New York City as a composer and audio producer, before returning to Asheville to launch 2BruceStudio.

Meanwhile, our search is underway for a full-time Community Radio/New Media Manager.

And we have begun organizing a Community Network Advisory Council to help us develop new programming ideas.  Later this summer we will be offering you a “Listener Survey” to get your ideas for fine-tuning our program offerings and schedule.

If you’re interested in volunteering, producing a program for MAIN/WPVM, or simply need more information, please contact Julie Coyle at:  outreach@main.nc.us

Have a great Independence Day Weekend!

Wally Bowen
Executive Director