OR, What's Worse: Youtube or U2?
Last week's FCC ruling on Net Neutrality seems like an unprecedented case. And, while it will have huge repercussions on the future of communications in the US, it is far from unique. America saw an almost identical case in the history of radio.
From the birth of radio (in the earliest days, wireless telegraphy), the airways were open to the public. It was an ideal communication platform for homesteader and farmers who lived in rural areas not serviced by telephone and telegraph lines. Some of the first broadcasters built their transmitters in farmhouses and garages in agricultural California as early as 1909.
And it wasn't just used for entertainment in the early days. One of the landmark applications of radio was onboard the Titanic. After crashing into the iceberg, a distress signal was sent from the ship's "Marconi room." It was picked up by the nearby RMS Carpathia which swooped by and saved 710 people.
Replica of the Titanic's Radio Room on the set of the film Titanic (1997)
But, just like with the Internet, a few bad apples aimed to spoil the bunch. A group of trolls interfered with enough US Navy broadcasts, that Congress drafted the Act To Regulate Radio Communication in 1912. It took a majority of the radio band away from US citizens and required enthusiasts to register for licenses to broadcast on certain channels.
And that was the beginning of a government agenda that systematically took control of the airways away from civilians and gave it to the federal government, military and corporation. The following decades saw more legislation that took control of this powerful communication tool. The Radio Act of 1927 was developed by Congress as a way to deny broadcast licenses to voices they considered "radical."
Then, during the 1930's, when Fascists the world around perfected propaganda techniques, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used radio to insert his voice into homes across America. The Fireside Chats used radio to disseminate socialist ideas such as Nationalism and trust in the banking system.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt mid-broadcast
At the same time Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover made a huge push to get Congressional control of the airwaves. Congress signed his Communication Act of 1934, which gave birth to the Federal Communication Commission. And it makes perfect sense that the organization created by the Secretary of Commerce has used its power to put more radio control into the hands of corporations for the past 50 yeas.
In those past 5 decades, communication legislation has continued to deregulate the airwaves, giving a louder voice to mega-corporations on both the left and right (ex. Comcast and Clearchannel respectively). It is these deregulatory acts that limit dissenting voices on the radio. And create super-stars out of Justine Bieber and the likes, by playing their songs non-stop on every radio station owned by the same parent company.
So, what does that all mean in terms of Net Neutrality? Well, the FCC's Open Internet Order means the Internet will continue to be a platform for free speech for all Americans. The policy, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will ensure "that no one — whether government or corporate — should control free open access to the Internet."
It protects your right to support small businesses in the US, and not buy all your outdoor gear from Walmart. It protects my right to post rambling blogs that Congress might consider "radical." It also protects both the dumb trolls on Youtube and militant insurgents posting terrorist videos. But with free speech, you have to take the good with the bad. And, if it means giving a voice to all US citizens and protecting our 1st Amendment rights, we would take a free Internet everyday.
Below are just some of our favorite pictures of radios in US history.
Charlie Lingar and his son listen to their battery radio. He has worked for the company for fourteen years but was injured in a mine explosion last December and hasn't been able to work since then. His three room house for which he pays $6.75 monthly has no running water, no toilet, no electricity. Kentucky Straight Creek Coal Company, Belva Mine, abandoned after explosion [in] Dec. 1945, Four Mile, Bell County, Kentucky
Jones, Zane E. [Three Soldier Listening to a Captured German Radio], Photograph, ca. 1945;
"A Farm Family Listening to Their Radio," 1926.
"Teenager with radio," 1972/1979. Courtesy University of North Carolina at Charlotte J. Murrey Atkins Library