When many people hear about something called the Free Press, if the term rings a bell at all, they tend to think of the Detroit Free Press, the venerable old-line newspaper that’s been published out of the Motor City for 178 years.
Nowadays, however freepress.net is a web 2.0 property whose mission is no less than one to “reform media [and] transform democracy.”
Dedicated to diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications, Free Press was launched in late 2002 by media scholar Robert W. McChesney, journalist John Nichols and Josh Silver, the organization’s current executive director.
Today, Free Press is the largest media reform organization in the United States, with nearly half-a-million activists and members and a full-time staff of more than 30 based in offices in Washington, D.C., and Florence, Mass.
Among Free Press’s most prominent cause celebres is the idea that people who purchase a cellular telephone should be able to use it however they choose, and that hardware manufacturers and service providers who collude with one another to limit consumer access and choice are guilty of curtailing innovation, crippling applications, and sticking users with the bill.
Free Press has gained some heavy hitting supporters in congress, among them former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, who recently convened hearings in the Senate to investigate why nine of the ten most popular cell phones are locked in a deal with one of the big three wireless carriers, and are only available through one network.
Kerry has been pointedly critical of what’s known in the wireless industry as “handset exclusivity” which has the effect of relegating iPhone owners to the AT&T network, Blackberry Storm owners to the Verizon network, and customers in rural America left with whatever phones are not locked up in an exclusive contract, rather than with the newest technology.
Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps is also interested in closely examining wireless handset exclusivity arrangements and has already instructed the FCC to determine whether handset exclusivity arrangements adversely restrict consumer choice or harm the development of innovative devices.
Open communication advocates were cheered as well by President Barack Obama’s recent appointment of Julius Genachowski to chair the FCC going forward. Genachowski is on record as supporting inquiry into the possible adverse effects of handset exclusivity and has said that if confirmed to the position he would ensure the FCC takes up a petition by the Rural Cellular Association, which calls exclusive deals between wireless carriers and cell phone manufacturers anti-competitive and anti-consumer.
Free Press is currently sponsoring a petition directed toward members of congress and officials at the FCC, seeking to show public support for three clear and simple demands:
1. The freedom to choose any phone on any network.
2. The freedom to choose among many carriers in a competitive, low-cost marketplace.
3. The freedom to access any Web content, applications or services we want through our phones.
Democracy in action seems to be popping up all over the globe these days, and right here in the birthplace of the movement, Free Press looks to be well organized and web savvy about applying its fundamental principles to open communications, net neutrality and the propagation of a diverse and independent media.