But I really, really hope it does. See, there’s this term floating around, “net neutrality.” It is very, very important, and I’ll tell you why.
This week, my class Skyped with Ruth Papazian about her experience using Google Glass for reporting. During the conversation, I quoted Papazian talking about the potential for media outlets to increase transparency when using Glass: “I would like to see a section for the raw footage on websites, so that viewers can see the raw footage next to the edited package … That’s the kind of transparency that journalism needs.” Then, NYC meteorologist Mike Favetta replied, saying that his newsroom, News 12 Brooklyn, features such a section, aptly named ‘News12Extra.’ Awesome.
But then, when I tried finding the section via a Google search, I was taken to a different part of News 12’s site called ‘News 12 Extra Time.’ Extra Time was clearly not what I was looking for; this section contained mainly sport previews. I searched their site twice more, looking up ‘News12Extra’ and ‘News 12 Extra,’ with no success. I tried again, but then a login screen popped up. Under where members enter their username/password, there was some small text. It reads: “Access is free for Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service ElectricSM customers who receive News 12.” Not awesome.
So, to recap: a meteorologist wanted to show how his company was becoming more transparent, and instead reminded me how the company that owns his company could be making Internet incredibly less transparent.
I replied to Mr. Favetta to express my disappointment. Ms. Papazian replied, saying that having the raw footage still represents a “step in the right direction.” I agree, and my qualms are out of Mr. Favetta’s control, but the fact remains that we are entering a very sensitive era of the Internet’s growth. Dan Gillmor in his book “We the Media” expresses my concern (albeit using copyright as an example rather than net neutrality, but the idea is the same):
Open systems are central to any future of a free (as in freedom) flow of information. Yet the forces of central control–governments and big businesses, especially the copyright cartel–are pushing harder and harder to clamp down on our networks. To preserve their business models, which are increasingly out-moded in a digital age, they would restrict innovation and, ultimately, the kinds of creativity on which they founded their businesses. The danger in this is massive, but the public remains all too oblivious, in part because Big Media has failed to cover the story properly. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
If, like the Wall Street Journal article states, broadband providers start charging websites a fee to get the fastest speeds, it will be a say day for creativity, innovation and, perhaps most of all, the Internet.
The Web may be the greatest democratizing force of all time. If a few companies control the flow of information (or, at least, the speed at which that information downloads) I fear it won’t stay that way.