NCMR: Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure

Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure

We set out to make the case that ownership is leverage. We this with the fight over net neutrality, where the telcos aim to use their ownership of infrastructure to control content, as cable companies already do.

It was also our goal to extend the debates over media ownership to include our ownership, instead of just talking about restricting corporate ownership. Because we are just as capable of owning our own infrastructure as we are of limiting theirs.

So that was the final goal of the session: to say that yes, you can do this at home.

Here are the different kinds of ownership (and examples or notes) we discussed that could be “our own” –

  • community ownership (LPFM)
  • public access (PEG cable channels)
  • common ownership / no ownership (open source software, unlicensed spectrum)
  • personal ownership (your content)
  • cooperative ownership (some rural electric utilities)
  • non-profit (unlike a small business, it can’t be bought or sold)
  • municipal ownership (some utilities, most roads, and now some wireless and fiber optic broadband networks)

In addition to discussing different kinds of ownership and their application to different media, we discussed some of the benefits of ownership, including

  • Enhanced distribution / Aggregating audience
  • Accountability (if you have proper governance)
  • Leverage (having an alternative makes corporations more responsive)
  • Economic engine / Source of sustainability

Sydney Levy from Media Alliance brought up the issue of redlining, saying that one of the best arguments for municipal or other non-corporate ownership was that it could be an antidote to the discriminatory practices of those corporate owners. I agree to some extent, but anyone who travels from a wealthy neighborhood of any major city to a poor neighborhood knows that municipal ownership does not necessarily mean equal levels of service. Thus the importance of governance and accountability, whoever the owner.

Related to that, Hannah raised what I thought was one of the strongest points in the discussion. She said that when you expose young people to an environment like a community radio station or Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel (which Tony Riddle described), one in which they control their own media, they figure it should always be like that. And of course that has political ramifications that go beyond communications and media.

On a personal note, I came to these ideas from my work in independent media, thinking about the importance of distribution and the weak point of relying on corporate infrastructure to send our independent media around the world. When I saw the work of the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network, I realized that we could build alternative infrastructure that could put the telcos out of business.

You can listen to the mp3 of the panel here.

I really appreciate the care and attention all of the panelists paid to their presentation. I think we delivered one of the stronger panels at the conference, one of the few that challenged its audience to expand their frame of thinking about all of the issues on the table at the conference. I also want to thank Free Press for accepting this proposal from me and Becca.



  1. Todd Boyle said

    In this legal system, the party that controls a studio, a fiber link, etc. has the absolute sovereignty over content. Of course this is subject to contract, subject to market competition– but when it really matters, corporate media ruthlessly clamp down and force their message. Witness the runup to the Iraq war. And when it really matters, telcos and cablecos ruthlessly constrain terms of service.

    People bump into this, they hear anecdotes, they wonder why there’s so much SPAM for example (because a certain software monopolist does not want an end to SPAM)

    There is only one real form of owner-operated information network, and that is very local wireless and ethernet. LPFM, public access and other options you listed-wonderful! -but they do not address the one, critical and fatal problem: when it really matters, there’s a single point of attack for any government or court, or hacker, or physical intruder to destroy. And that is exactly what always happens, when the information, the content, starts to make a difference, a serious difference for anybody.

    When you start doing transactions of more than trivial money, there will be more and more determined thieves. When you start taking back our cultural content and republishhing it on these networks there will be attacks by copyright authorities. When you start doing IP telephony the telcos will attack it. When you start doing digital cash FINCEN or the local cops will be all over it, and when you use it to organize any large protest like WTO, or protesting the presidential visist, your mail and websites mysteriously go offline.

    When you realize the scope of the problem the solution becomes more clear. You need a collection of standard hardware devices that function just a bit different from standard WiFi AP’s. I coordinated a small “requirements” discussion on SeattleWireless a few years ago..The doc. is still up there. But I am just one voice. We need a full, formal technical requirements process, backed up by our pledges to fund multi-million dollar fabrication of chips for this network. (CUWIN is great but underfunded and operates on too high of a level) There are a number of long-established, well-functioning organizations who make a living supporting standards processes. For example, visit OASIS

    Kind regards,

  2. […] builds on the panel I moderated at the National Conference for Media Reform on “Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure,” obviously with a very local twist. You can get a more full understanding of why I think […]

  3. […] “Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure,” moderated by yours truly at 9:00 am in the Chicasaw/Mississippi room; [listen] […]

  4. […] see vital debate on the airwaves, telling local, regional, and national stories with passion. As Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said at this year’s National Conference for Media Reform […]

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