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WASHINGTON -- Remarks by Josh Silver, president and CEO of Free Press, at the Free Press Summit: Ideas to Action in Washington, D.C.:

Thank you, Alberto. For your words, and for your support of this important event. Before I begin, I’d like to thank the incredible Free Press team and especially Mary Alice Crim. In fact, I’d like all Free Press staff to please stand up…….. I want you to know who they are, as we are your hosts today.

A year ago, we gathered for the first Free Press policy summit, and we made a strong case for why and how the policies shaping the future of high-speed Internet access and media content are inextricably linked.

We argued that to foster better journalism, better education, and a more informed and enlightened citizenry, we must stop America’s decline in broadband Internet speed, affordability and adoption. We showed how failed policymaking has created many of our current problems, and how smart policymaking is central to long-term solutions.

A lot has happened in the past year. Newspapers lost thousands of jobs, as ad revenue plummeted across commercial media. Bad business practices are partly to blame. But the biggest culprit is the divorce of advertising and news production brought by the Web that is transforming the economics of news.

Today we face a stark reality: More and more communities have few to no reporters acting as their eyes and ears, holding those in power accountable. The good news? The problem is so severe that we’ve seen a major increase in awareness here in Washington that there is a crisis, and that issues like Net Neutrality, universal broadband, reinvigorated public media and other pro-journalism policies are critical parts of the solution.

Commercial innovation will surely play a major role in solving the crisis in journalism. But like the challenges facing broadband adoption, it will require changes in policy if we hope to foster media content that sustains democracy in the future.

As Rep. Henry Waxman said last December: “Eventually, government is going to have to be responsible to help and resolve these issues.”

Indeed, government involvement in protecting and promoting a vibrant free press is nothing new. It dates back to the founding of our nation more than 200 years ago.

However, as we look at the role of policymaking today, I must confess that I am growing tired. I’m fed up with the disingenuous and reckless industry-funded rhetoric, that mythical free markets will somehow make everything right -- if government would just get out of the way.

As the book we released at this event last year illustrated, that very approach is what led to America’s global decline in broadband speed and adoption. That approach is what put basic protections for Internet users in jeopardy. That approach is what led to runaway media consolidation. That approach is what led to shuttered bureaus and empty newsrooms and so much of the country left in the dark about what is happening in their own communities.

But failed government oversight is not unique to media and technology. It is why four million gallons of crude oil are gushing into our waters as I speak. It is at the heart of the banking crisis and the mining tragedy in West Virginia; and of an election process that has turned our democracy into pay to play corruption.

Yet our media still constantly question whether reasonable government oversight is necessary; they treat “regulation” like some dangerous affliction, while too often failing to hold our government and corporate leaders accountable.

The truth is, free markets often don’t work without some government involvement to establish the rules of the road. This is especially true in markets like broadcasting, cable and Internet access – where there are just a few companies offering access to communications. Indeed, Net Neutrality is a policy dedicated to protecting the free market on the Internet, ensuring a level playing field, against a cartel of Internet providers. 

But in modern day Washington, this Washington, facts have become irrelevant in the face of deep-pocketed, industry-funded think tanks, PR shops and mercenary political hit groups whose sole objective is to remove any and all reasonable government oversight that would protect consumers at the expense of corporate profits.

Industry and their proxies ignore successful public media models around the world, and claim that public funding of media is a socialist cabal.

They falsely claim that competition and Net Neutrality rules will cause the sky to fall, investment to cease and jobs to be lost; all without any real evidence. They claim Net Neutrality is a government takeover of the Internet, when the opposite is true: It is about preventing the largest Internet providers from indiscriminately blocking or slowing content. And they ignore the breathtaking hypocrisy of their less-government rhetoric, as they lead armies of lobbyists to secure government tax breaks and subsidies worth millions.

Industry front groups have even started to make McCarthy-esque allegations against our organization, painting our efforts to protect consumers and promote critical journalism as part of a “Marxist” government takeover of the Internet.

Because nothing Free Press actually says or does remotely reflects their rhetoric, they recycle out-of-context quotes from one of our cofounders. Or they draw up elaborate conspiracy theories. It is the province of liars and scoundrels.

It is these kinds of smear tactics and diversion from substance that disgust and alienate Americans both liberal and conservative, and allow misguided industry-backed policies to win the day and fail the nation.

We must learn from our history. We must put to rest industry calls for blind abandonment of government oversight. We must remember the sobering moment in the middle of the financial meltdown, when Alan Greenspan, the lion of the Federal Reserve, admitted that his view of the world, his lifelong resistance to government oversight, was wrong.

Many industry lobbyists already know what Mr. Greenspan acknowledged that day: Too little government oversight hurts the public interest.

But they loudly proclaim the contrary because, as they’ll tell you over a few drinks, “Hey, I need to make a good living, you know.”

It took Greenspan 40 years to wake up. Our nation cannot wait another 40 years to wake up. Our media cannot wait another 40 years to wake up. We cannot wait until things reach disastrous proportions to realize that they are wrong.

We must look at the facts, and at ourselves, and summon the courage to advance the policies that will make our communications system, our economy, our information society, and our democracy work for everyone – not just the largest firms.

This is not about the interests of the left or the interests of the right … this is about the public interest. 

Today, you will hear from an august group of speakers -- discussing common sense approaches to get universal, affordable, fast and open Internet to every home and business in America. We will explore how to foster independent, accountable and diverse media and journalism.

They are the policies required to meet the needs of our modern, participatory, connected democracy, and we must not – indeed, we cannot fail to meet the challenge.

As President Obama said at his inauguration, “It is not about big government or small government. It is about government that works for people.” That, after all, is why we’re here today. Thank you.

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