news headlines for 12-3-04 radioshow

These are the news headlines as read on the Dec. 3, 2004 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Patrick Thompson’s Eavesdropping Charge Dropped;
Champaign Considers Educational Programming for City Cable Channel; FCC Hearing on Media Consolidation; Michael Powell Says Ownership Regs a Way Off; PA Law Limits Municipal Wireless.

Patrick ThompsonÂ’s Eavesdropping Charge Dropped
After spending nearly two months in jail, Champaign resident Patrick Thompson is home and felony eavesdropping charges against him have been dropped by newly elected states attorney, July Reitz, just hours after she was sworn into office. Thompson was one of two men charged with felony eavesdropping earlier this year by former Champaign County States Attorney John Piland.

Piland filed the charges against the men for having videotaped Champaign police officers conducting traffic stops and other duties in public as part of a documentary on police treatment of African-Americans in Champaign-Urbana.

Piland dropped charges against the other man, Martel Miller, after significant community outcry and when both the Champaign Chief of Police and City Manager requested the charges be dropped. However, Piland refused to drop charges against Thompson, who faces other unrelated felony charges.

Thompson still faces those charges but was released today on his own recognizance when Reitz asked to have his $250,000 bail dropped.

Champaign Considers Educational Programming for City Cable Channel
The Champaign City Council considered a proposal to expand the scope of the CityÂ’s government cable channel to include educational programming at a study session held on Nov. 30. The proposal came from city staff, and the council decided that the issue should be examined more before programming is added. In particular the council asked city staff to return with more specific criteria and guidelines for the type of programming that would be aired on the cityÂ’s channel. Currently the channel airs city meetings and runs a bulletin board in between programs.

The council did not seem interested in expanding the scope of the cityÂ’s channel to include public access programming like UrbanaÂ’s UPTV, which is a hybrid government and public access channel.

The council is expected to take up the issue again in March or April when city staff returns with the requested criteria.

FCC Hearing on Media Consolidation
Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Johnathan Adelstein will be holding a forum on media concentration in St. Paul MN on Dec. 9. The forum will be organized into two panels – “Local News and Information,” and “Media Diversity.” After the panels, there will be an opportunity for members of the general public to make comments. According to a Commission press release, the purpose of the hearing is to give citizens outside of Washington, DC, an opportunity to voice their opinions about media consolidation and to offer comments on how the agency can develop protections that provide citizens with viewpoints from a diversity of sources and enhance the marketplace of ideas.

Michael Powell Says Ownership Regs a Way Off
FCC Chairman Michael Powell told a telecommunications policy conference on Dec. 2 that he believes it will take seven years in order to establish new media ownership regulations. The CommissionÂ’s last attempt at revising these rules, which raised considerable ire from the public and public interest groups, were struck down by the 3rd circuit court of appeals last June. FCC lawyers are currently considering appealing that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Powell told the conference that he believes that currently the media environment is now chaotic. The seven years will be necessary not just to resolve the case of the recent rules revision, but to reestablish, “both a framework and a national consensus” about what the nature of media ownership regulation should be.

PA Law Limits Municipal Wireless

On Nov. 29 Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell signed into law new legislation that will severely limit the ability of cities and municipalities in that state to construct their own free wireless networks and other telecommunications services. Although Rendell acknowledged that these limits are a “problem,” he pointed Verizon’s agreement to waive its right to stop Philadelphia’s plan for a Wi-Fi network, and said the state would “work with other municipalities on projects that they have established or propose to establish in order to ensure that, to the extent that they are now viable, they will also have the opportunity to succeed.”

Under the terms of the new law, Pennsylvania municipalities are not utterly prohibited from providing telecommunications services, however they are required to give the right of first refusal to commercial telecommunications providers, like Verizon. These providers are under no obligation to provide services at the same level or cost as those that would be provided by a municipality.

In an analysis of the law on his blog, Sascha Meinrath, coordinator of the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network, puts it this way:

“Verizon stands to gain huge public subsidies for their network, forcing municipalities to purchase equipment and services from them, while at the same time preventing these same municipalities from competing and passing any cost savings onto the public who’s paying for these subsidies.”