Tim Wu is a Columbia University law professor who coined the term “net neutrality.” His new book, “Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires,” documents a common struggle many of us here in the North Carolina mountains know all too well:
When broadband Internet access is controlled by just two industries (cable and telephone), local economies and people suffer.
“Master Switch” reveals how every new revolutionary technology moves through cycles: from openness and innovation to consolidation and control by monopolists.
In a recent interview with New Yorker magazine, Wu predicts the next stage in the monopolistic cycle will be Google and Apple each merging with a cable or telephone company. The interviewer, Jeffrey Toobin, then asks: “What’s after that?”
Wu: “Oh, this is really interesting. I think at some point people are going to get fed up with information channels . . . controlled by so few people and try and break open that market, and for example, set up mom-and-pop wireless providers.
“Everyone who has tried to do that has died. But one day this will come, and that would blow everything open again . . . [and] you would have incredibly high-speed wireless networks that are much cheaper than what you have today.”
Toobin: “Do you think the technology could exist to support that?”
Wu: “Sure, sure. It’s a government licensing issue, spectrum reform.”
MAIN is one “mom-and-pop” wireless ISP which did not die. In 2007, MAIN began organizing for “spectrum reform” by calling for unlicensed access to the “white spaces,” the vacant TV channels that belong to us, the American people.
These lower frequency channels penetrate buildings, bend around mountain ridges, and travel over long distances. With access to this spectrum, MAIN can deliver broadband wireless Internet access that is superior to current broadband access from Charter, AT&T and Frontier here in WNC.
Despite strong opposition from TV broadcasters, we and our allies succeeded in winning a unanimous vote at the FCC in 2008 to liberate these unused channels from corporate control. This past September, the FCC issued the final rules for “white spaces” technologies so that manufacturers can bring this new hardware to market in 2011.
The struggle to address rural America’s broadband crisis has been slow and difficult, and it is far from over. But we have made much progress. MAIN’s leadership on the N.C. Rural Internet Access Authority helped spur the deployment of more than 500 miles of locally-owned broadband fiber in WNC. Fiber-optic lines are the essential arteries for delivering plentiful and affordable “last mile” wireless broadband to homes and businesses. No rural region in America has made such progress.
Similarly, MAIN was instrumental in liberating the public airwaves from corporate control via the licensing of new, community-based low-power FM radio stations. However, as with the “white spaces” struggle, corporate broadcasters have fought to delay and limit the return of “local voices” to our public airwaves.
While our radio station, MAIN-FM 103.5, is licensed for 100 watts, rules written by broadcast lobbyists require us to reduce our power to only 2 watts. But this could change. The bipartisan Local Community Radio Act will remove this anti-competitive straitjacket on community radio.
The LCRA has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote. In the U.S. Senate, 98 members have expressed support for LCRA, including Tea Party senator-elect Rand Paul. However, one senator has placed an anonymous “hold” on the bill in a last-ditch effort to protect corporate broadcasters from competition.
* Imagine our mountain region with dozens of new nonprofit local radio stations!
* Imagine WNC with universal and affordable broadband Internet access!
Because of your support over the last 15 years, MAIN has helped bring WNC to the verge of a new era in local broadcasting and local Internet access.
Unfortunately, this struggle – and the economic crisis of the last two years – has taken its toll on MAIN. Our pioneering organization will not survive to see this new day without your help.
Here’s how you can help:
1. Make a tax-deductible donation to MAIN. Help keep this unique organization alive for the next 15 years by making a secure online donation at: Or mail your donation to: MAIN, 34 Wall Street, Suite 407, Asheville, N.C. 28801.
2. Become a MAIN underwriter. Share your business or nonprofit message with a “buy local” audience at rates far more cost-effective than those of other radio and online media.
3. Donate your old car or truck to MAIN. Take advantage of the convenience of getting rid of an old car or truck by turning it into a tax-deductible gift to MAIN or MAIN-FM.
4. Host your website (business, nonprofit or personal) with MAIN. Why send your webhosting dollars to an absentee-corporation like GoDaddy, when you can keep your dollars local to support a nonprofit that works on behalf of you and your community?
In this economic climate, many worthy nonprofits are fighting for their lives. A donation to MAIN is an investment in locally-owned media infrastructure to help ALL of our local nonprofits and small businesses not only survive, but to thrive and become sustainable.
MAIN is proud to be one of the only nonprofit networks cited in the proposed National Broadband Plan. This plan is our roadmap to the future, but it proposes two very different routes.
One route is continuing tax breaks and subsidies for the Wall Street-backed telecom conglomerates. The other route includes subsidies for community-based, “self-help” networks like MAIN.
This is no time to gamble that Congress and the FCC will “do the right thing” and favor the needs of Main Street over the influence of Wall Street.
The technology now exists for cost-effective, local “self-help” broadband networks to meet local broadband needs while creating local jobs and boosting local economies. All that is missing are policies and rules to “level the playing field” for local broadband networks. For the last decade, MAIN has carried the “local network” banner to Raleigh and to Washington.
Remember Tim Wu’s words about the return of mom-and-pop ISPs: “One day this will come.” Please give whatever you can afford to make sure MAIN is there for you and for Western North Carolina in the months and years ahead.
Wally Bowen Roger Derrough
Executive Director MAIN Board Chair