On Capitol Hill 

By John Vezina, WGAW Political Director 

(R-L) Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, discusses the Guild’s public policy priorities with Board member Alfredo Barrios and WGAW President Chris Keyser. 

As part of the WGAW political program’s endeavor to bring the creative and economic challenges faced by writers working in a concentrated industry to the forefront of ongoing legislative and regulatory debates in Washington, WGAW President Chris Keyser and board member Alfredo Barrios traveled to Washington, D.C., during the first week of November to represent the Guild in meetings with federal officials and congressional leaders. The meetings focused on ways federal policy can foster a more competitive media marketplace and be used to fight digital piracy without handing control over the Internet to a few companies. Keyser and Barrios shed light on the distinct perspective writers, as content creators, have on making the programming enjoyed by Americans as entertaining and diverse as possible. Discussions focused on the importance of competition in media markets, with an emphasis on specific issues such as Net Neutrality, prohibiting further media consolidation, addressing anti-competitive bandwidth capping practices, and the mandating of set-top boxes that would combine cable and Internet content delivered to your television.

At the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Keyser and Barrios met with Commissioner Michael Copps; the chiefs of staff to Chairman Genachowski and Commissioner Clyburn; Paul de Sa, Chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis; and the agency’s transaction team for the ATT/T-Mobile merger. In these meetings, Guild leadership provided regulators with important information about the realities facing writers in a concentrated marketplace controlled by five media conglomerates. The FCC is responsible not only for such issues as the ATT/T-Mobile and the Comcast/NBC-U mergers but also for Net Neutrality and ensuring that the media marketplace, including television and the Internet, are competitive, diverse, and serve the public interest. Educating the agency’s decision makers is vital to promoting and protecting the competitive market in which writers work.

While in Washington, Keyser and Barrios also conducted a round of visits on Capitol Hill. They met with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and two leading committee staffers to discuss the then-pending resolution to disallow implementation of the FCC’s December 2010 rules protecting an open Internet. Rockefeller led the floor debate in favor of the open Internet rules the next week and was effective in stopping the repeal. The pair had a breakfast meeting with Sen. Mark Begich and his deputy chief of staff to discuss Net Neutrality, the ATT/T-Mobile merger, and how both writers and the viewing public are affected by the lack of competition for creative works.

On the House side, Keyser and Barrios met with Reps. Henry Waxman, Howard Berman, and Janice Hahn. They thanked Waxman for his strong support of Guild issues and discussed concerns with the recently introduced Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Because Berman is a co-sponsor of SOPA, the pair discussed their concerns with the bill’s implications for competition and an open Internet. Although the WGAW strongly supports combating piracy, the competition, First Amendment, and due process concerns the bill creates must be addressed. Berman said he wanted to work with the WGAW to address the issues and asked for input on the legislation. The meeting with Hahn, newly elected to the House, was an introduction to the Guild’s public policy program and an opportunity to explain our work with the FCC and other members of congress.

During the two-day trip, Keyser and Barrios also met with Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the MPAA, Markham Erickson of the Open Internet Coalition, and Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge.

It is important that writers, with distinctive points of view on many public policy matters, are engaged with our nation’s elected and appointed political leaders. The Guild’s public policy and political staffs work to ensure that those leaders hear your voices. Meetings like those led by President Keyser and Board Member Barrios are vital this effort. To learn more about the WGAW’s efforts in Washington, please click here.