Theft of the Airwaves, Part II

In a column published not all that long ago in this space, we discussed the latest obscene example of the Congressional love affair with Corporate Welfare. Last April, your representatives gave away public airwaves to the nation's television stations, a gift which could have produced over $70 billion if auctioned off, as the law at one time required.

Even FCC chairman Reed Hundt complained about the gift calling it, "The largest single grant of public property to a single industry in this generation".

This gift was made after the broadcasters falsely claimed that they could not afford to develop HDTV (High Definition Television) without the free air waves. Well, as nearly any industry watcher could have told Congress, HDTV has been a lie that the industry has maintained in order to achieve better tax and regulation treatment with this huge Welfare package just an additional bonus. The industry never intended to produce HDTV simply because, with the new frequencies, they knew that they could compress two or even three additional signals (channels) in the old analog or newer digital formats and the average couch potato would never notice the difference.

ABC TV's president Preston Padden has disclosed that his network will not be broadcasting HDTV at all. He openly admits that they will be broadcasting not just more regular analog channels but will use some of the free frequencies for pay-TV programs.

How, you might be asking yourself, can these corporate thieves get away with such a massive theft and immoral fraud? Not without the direct assistance of your Congressional representative, of course. Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott pushed this summer's supposed balanced budget act in which they buried a clause allowing the stations to keep the frequencies beyond 2006, the agreed upon deadline for producing the HDTV signals, so long as 15% of the broadcaster's market still use analog TVs. In other words, if the poorest 15% of a broadcaster's viewers cannot afford to buy a new TV set, the broadcasters have no responsibility to keep their promises.

Not a bad deal, don't you think? Now, notice how Congress has been determined to destroy every safety net for the poor? Think there's no connection?

So what do we have so far? The TV broadcasters are given a Corporate Welfare gift of over $70 billion with absolutely no requirement that any promises they made in order to steal that gift is ever kept, your representatives continue to receive the millions in contributions from these same thieves, you'll never see HDTV in your lifetime and, finally, any program that benefits the poor and middle-class is considered by conservatives as unneeded. Notice a trend here? Is there any possibility that the party of purity and family values and self-determination is just another fraud? Is there any possibility that these liars and cheats have led the Republican voters around by their noses while stealing everything that they own that wasn't nailed down while whining and spouting the hate filled nonsense that passed for debate in the 1990's?

President Clinton has been studying methods to make amends for this cataclysmic mistake. His answer to this immoral giveaway? Why, he's recommending that broadcasters be required to provide free air time to political candidates. Now, I for one am just tickled pink at the thought of punishing Corporate America by making them give even more largess to our elected officials. Somehow, though, I'm having trouble understanding how giving politicians even more benefits ends up helping the American taxpayers who were ripped off in the first place.

Speaking of the public trough being drained into corporate coffers; it cost you, personally, and every other American taxpayer $520 to give this gift. Why do I have the eerie feeling that there won't be a word about this on old Limbaugh's few remaining radio outlets or in any other conservative writer's columns such as George Will, the pundit for the rich? Why do I have the funny feeling that the right will continue to rail and howl about the evils of Welfare when it goes to those who need it but will sit quietly sucking up the contributions when it's given to those who don't need it?!? Why, finally, do I believe that this will be the only place that will remind you that Welfare for the poorest Americans cost $72 Billion in 1995 and the far right conservatives whined about all of that money being wasted but then gave $70 Billion to those who needed it the least. Pretty nasty folks, in my opinion.

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Copyright 8/11/97