Wealth and Want
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Spectrum Trust


Peter Barnes: Capitalism 3.0 — Chapter 9: Building the Commons Sector (pages 135-154)

A spectrum or airwaves trust would have a distinct mission: to reduce the influence of corporations on our democracy. Its economic and ecological impacts could be significant (reducing corporate political influence will improve many policies), but they’re secondary to the political objective.

According to a study by the New America Foundation, the market value of the airwave licenses we’ve given free to corporate broadcasters is roughly $500 billion. It’s possible this value will decline as unlicensed wi-fi spreads, but meanwhile broadcasters sell our airwaves to advertisers and reap billions that belong, at least in part, to all of us.

Part of that money comes from political candidates who must purchase TV and radio ads to get elected. The problem isn’t so much the unearned windfall broadcasters collect; rather, it’s the fact that candidates are compelled to pay it to them. That makes politicians kowtow to corporate donors in order to pay broadcasters. Other democracies give free airtime to political candidates, but we protect the broadcasters’ lock on our airwaves. By privatizing our airwaves, in other words, we’ve effectively privatized our democracy. The job of a spectrum trust would be to take back our democracy by taking back our airwaves.

This could be done in a couple of ways. One wouldn’t require an actual trust: Congress could simply say that, in exchange for free spectrum licenses, broadcasters must give a certain amount of free airtime to political candidates. Alternatively, broadcasters could pay for their licenses, with revenue going to a nonpartisan trust. That trust would allocate funds to candidates for the purchase of TV and radio ads; the allocation formula would take account of cost differences between media markets and other relevant variables. Neither of these approaches would prevent corporations from lobbying or contributing to candidates’ other expenses, but they would level the political playing field by greatly reducing the sums candidates have to raise to get elected. ... read the whole chapter



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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper