Committed to the First Amendment
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/17/2002 7:00:00 PM
Jump-starting the broadbandwagon
As expected, the FCC has decided the government's interest in encouraging broadband-service rollout outweighs cable competitors' desire to piggyback on that industry's capital investment in wiring the nation. It was the right call. Deciding otherwise would have been completely out of step with Washington's drumbeat on the importance of bridging the digital divide.
The cable industry has been upfront that there would be a major economic disincentive if, like the little red hen, it does all the work and its competitors get to dig in with knife and fork. Also impeding the rollout has been the power of local franchising authorities to impose ISP-access obligations, or not, as part of franchise agreements—resulting in myriad court challenges to confuse the picture and keep cable companies from jumping in with both feet.
Critics of the FCC's decision said it was handing cable the keys to the Net. If so, telcos and satellite companies have duplicates, and the FCC still has the power to take back cable's keys if it gets out of line.
When Harvest of Shame was known as a groundbreaking CBS documentary and not a commentary on the quality of fall schedules, CBS was the gold standard for the kind of "reality" TV that prompted positive social change or trained an unblinking eye on an issue or event.
Like an Indian summer day or a glimpse of Brigadoon, the network showed us a flash of that brilliance with the scheduling of 9/11, the documentary on firefighters at the World Trade Center. "Scheduling" because it was not a news-division production. But the network shepherded and aired it despite understandable criticism, most of it off the mark, that it was too raw or too real or too soon. On paper, it was probably all of that. In reality, it was not.
Frankly, we wish CBS had promoted it even more. Everyone should see this show. But the network had legitimate fears that it would be branded exploitative. Like the little boy who cried wolf (or, in this case, "ratings"), the networks are in part to blame for that viewer apprehension given the depths some are willing to plumb to make a buck.
By contrast, 9/11 was compelling and uplifting, terrible and riveting. There was something fitting about the fact that it carried a CBS Movie label rather than CBS News. Only a scriptwriter could have created a story that ended with all the firefighters in a house only blocks away from the Twin Towers surviving, with the focus of the piece (a raw recruit singled out months before) the last to return after many had given him up for lost. But this was real, and that reality provided a sense of hope that was a counterweight to the terrible stories of the hundreds of firefighters who did not make it back.
We're only sorry it took a tragedy to remind us of what TV can be at its best.
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