In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.
Archive for radio
This Sunday is the 5th annual New York City Grassroots Media Conference. You should attend!
PPH will be there in force. Abdulai, Radha, and Felix from our Community News Production Insitute are doing a workshop on “Reporting from the streets: Workers Redefine Media Justice.”
Radio Rootz, our youth program, is doing a workshop on creating a vox pop, which is like a quick way to capture the views and voices of multiple people on the street. The workshop is not listed in the conference program, but it’s at 12:15pm in room c112.
We’ll be handing out flyers with info about the Rootz workshop. We’ll also be handing out flyers letting people know that they can invite the Digital Expansion Initiative to visit their organization to discuss the city’s plans for expanding access to the Internet. There are big things on the horizon for your computer. If you don’t know about it, drop us a line.
My latest column for Gotham Gazette is on the government-mandated transition to digital television (DTV). It takes you through all of the places where this process can go wrong: the coupons the government is handing out for the digital converter boxes, your TV, your antenna, the broadcaster, and the public education.
Since we published the article, one more snafu has come to light. Everyone I spoke to recommended getting a coupon and a converter and setting up your TV as soon as possible. However, the $40 coupons the government is offering expire 90 days from when they’re mailed. I don’t know why they put an expiration date on them.
It wouldn’t be too much of an issue except the Echostar converter box that is set to retail for $39.99 – the only hope a consumer has to avoid an out-of-pocket expense for this transition – won’t hit the market for another 4 months.
So if you act fast, you’ll have less choice of what kind of converter to purchase. But if you wait, you’ll have less time to fix any problem you have getting a digital picture on your TV.
One other part of the story that didn’t make it into the article but is worth considering is the impact the digital transition will have on tinkering and hobbyists. This came up in my interview with the engineer from WNYW. It was clear that he’d been tinkering with transmitters and electronics his whole life and he lamented the barrier that digital technology posed to anyone getting into that.
Digital signals either work or they don’t. Analog has a grey area that invites tweaking. Most of the digital technology is proprietary and built on secrets, while analog is right in front of you on the motherboard. It’s not easy to understand transistors and capacitors and math and physics, but if you can learn by poking it and assessing the feedback in a way that’s much harder to do with digital.
The WNYW engineer sounded almost wistful when he said that he never understood those Star Trek episodes where a society that had in its possession some advanced technology nevertheless slipped into a primitive state because they couldn’t figure out how to operate or repair the machinery. He always figured you could figure it out through tinkering. But now that he’s installing his station’s new digital transmitters, he sees how alien and impenetrable technology can be.
From a current-day consumer perspective, it’s most absurd that the government coupon and education programs would be so impenetrable. But there may also be a time when we lament not being able to tune a TV with a paper clip or build a radio with a soldering iron and grit.
This is an opportunity for you to support some very important work.
People’s Production House spent much of the last two weeks in Biloxi and New Orleans, working with grantees of the Ms. Foundation in the Gulf Coast. My colleagues (I was holding down the fort in NYC) worked with local residents to produce radio segments about their lives and the ongoing process of recovery, leaving them with production equipment, new skill-sets, and customized how-to materials.
It looked a little something like this…
… but I assume it sounded a bit different in the doing. That video was shot and edited by renown movement videographer Jacquie Soohen, over the course of a single day at Renaissance Village. Thanks, Jacquie!
Renaissance Village is the largest FEMA trailer park in the country with over 500 families (built by The Shaw Group, a large Louisiana firm cozy with Bush, on a no-bid contract after Katrina). The residents are understandably distrustful of outsiders, especially journalists. But there is an amazing youth center there and Abdulai Bah and Deepa Fernandes from People’s Production House have, over time, been welcomed into the park’s community as allies.
We have the ability to expand on this partnership and make some more great radio, but we need to raise a bit of money to make it happen.
The next step would be to build a direct relationship between the peer trainers of Radio Rootz (People’s Production House’s youth program) with the youth of the Teen Learning Center. Learning from people their own age is the best way to cement the Renaissance Village youth’s skills and desire for media making. And it would certainly expand the Rootz trainers’ abilities. (Rootz peer trainers are New York City high school students or recent graduates who have spent at least a year in the Rootz program.)
With a series of bills recently introduced in Congress, the media reform movement’s DC wing has finally gone on the offensive. The Community Broadband Act, the Broadband Data Improvement Act, and the Local Community Radio Act would break down significant barriers to expanding community media throughout the country.
“Up to this point with a GOP Congress, it’s been all about blocking the bad stuff,” Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott said.
A list of their campaigns bears that out, imploring people to Save The Internet, Stop Postal Rate Hikes, Rescue Internet Radio and Protect Public Media. Now, after four years of damage control, Free Press and its allies are starting to push for an expansion of local media and for new tools to hold media corporations accountable.
The Community Broadband Act, sponsored by Representatives Rick Boucher (D-VA) and Fred Upton (R-MI), would authorize municipalities to build their own broadband networks. It would override bans of such projects on the books in 14 states. The League of Cities and other local advocates have pushed for the federal law to return their authority and flexibility to address local gaps in broadband deployment.
Pushing for proactive changes opens the way for a fundamentally different relationship between lobbyists in DC and community activists. The process of blocking bad legislation in Congress or flawed FCC regulations has put the DC groups at the helm with grassroots organizations helping with education and mobilization. We are beginning to see a more balanced partnership, with the legislative wonks responding to needs that communities have defined for themselves – removing legislative barriers and increasing access to helpful information.
The Broadband Data Improvement Act, sponsored by Daniel Inouye (D-HI) in the Senate and Ed Markey (D-MA) in the House, would correct serious flaws in the way the federal government measures broadband Internet availability and usage, making it easier for consumers to hold providers accountable. The FCC currently counts as broadband any connection of 200 kbps, which is closer to dial-up speeds than today’s standard connections over DSL or cable. It also counts an entire zip code as having broadband access as long as a single individual in that zip code has it.
The Digital Expansion Initiative, my program at People’s Production House, is partnering with the NYU Department of Environmental Medicine to conduct a citywide phone survey to get decent data on of Internet usage in New York City. These statistics will not give a perfect picture, which is why we are also partnering with community organizations to interview people who have limited access to the Internet. But the survey is a critical piece of the project, since we cannot interview everyone and we need to have a sense of how our interviewees’ experiences are. The Broadband Data Improvement Act would give everyone access to meaningful data on Internet usage, making it easier to identify which communities should be engaged in processes to expand participation in the online world.
If the improved data collection reveals inequities in Internet access, the Community Broadband Act will be key to addressing them. Action by municipal governments has become a key tactic for promoting high speed Internet usage where private companies do not offer the service or offer it at a prohibitively high price.
This trend of proactive legislation will continue into the fall. The bipartisan Local Community Radio Act of 2007 could double or even triple the number of low power FM stations on the dial, according to Prometheus Radio Project, which helps build LPFM stations and is advocating for the legislation. It would also permit new stations in major urban areas – everywhere except New York, LA, and Chicago.
“Those who believe that policy change starts from the grassroots believe that a victory of this magnitude is more than just a media reform milestone, but a chance to build real, lasting institutions that will help people,” Prometheus’s Hannah Sassaman said. “Those people will lead the media policy fights of the future.”
The bill corrects a shortcoming in the law from 2000 that originally created the LPFM license category. In response to pressure from National Public Radio and industry lobbyists, who claimed the new stations would cause interference, Congress limited the new licenses to sparsely populated areas with equally sparse radio dials. Congress initiated a study that disproved the industry claims, but never followed up – until Prometheus and its allies in DC began a push to change the law.
New community media outlets, in turn, will make it easier to hold the line if the tide turns back in favor of incumbent corporations. The people who benefit from these new laws will be able to come to DC in the future to push for further positive reforms.
“Damn straight,” says Sassaman. “Community activists have proven that they are hotshot lobbyists.”