Feb 11 2013
BILL MOYERS: You’ve heard me before quote one of my mentors who told his students that “news is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity.” That’s why two books are rattling the cages of powerful people who would rather you not read them. Here’s the first one. Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age by Susan Crawford. Read it and you’ll understand why we Americans are paying much more for internet access than people in many other countries and getting much less in return. That, despite the fact that our very own academics and engineers, working with our very own Defense Department, invented the internet in the first place.
Back then, the U.S. was in the catbird seat – poised to lead the world down this astonishing new superhighway of information and innovation. Now many other countries offer their citizens faster and cheaper access than we do. The faster high-speed access comes through fiber optic lines that transmit data in bursts of laser light, but many of us are still hooked up to broadband connections that squeeze digital information through copper wire. We’re stuck with this old-fashioned technology because, as Susan Crawford explains, our government has allowed a few giant conglomerates to rig the rules, raise prices, and stifle competition. Just like standard oil in the first Gilded Age a century ago.
In those days, it was muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens rattling the cages and calling for fair play. Today it’s independent thinkers like Susan Crawford. The big telecom industry wishes she would go away, but she’s got a lot of people on her side. In fact, if you go to the White House citizen’s petition site, you’ll see how fans of Captive Audience are calling on the President to name Susan Crawford as the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission. “Prospect” magazine named her one of the “top ten brains of the digital future,” and Susan Crawford served for a time as a special assistant to President Obama for science, technology and innovation. Right now she teaches communications law at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law here in New York City and is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Susan Crawford, welcome.