De-Democratizing The Web

De-Democratizing The Web

De-Democratizing The Web

De-Democratizing The Web

Court Ruling Will Make Your Blog Posts and Videos Cost To Upload

AT&T Could Censor Your Content

DC Appeals Court smashes Net Neutrality
Image courtesy of sscreations / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Washington, DC, Federal Appeals Court did some major damage to democracy last week when it sided with Verizon against FCC regulations aimed at forcing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat all web content equally. The concept is known as “net neutrality” and the issue will probably affect you very soon.

Remember when there were three national television networks? Back before cable television, if you wanted to share a message via the most powerful broadcast medium ever known, television, you had to go through ABC, NBC, and CBS. The price was high. So high, in fact, that only rich organizations could effectively get their messages across the airwaves. And the system created a reinforcing loop, making those big companies even bigger and more powerful. And if those large companies  (advertisers) didn’t like the content they were “sponsoring” with their commercials, all they had to do was complain and “poof,” the nation would see Brady Bunch and Love Boat episodes rather than controversial and important programming that might “upset” viewers, who might lose their appetites for Burger King’s latest culinary creation.

I’ll argue that the system of the mid 20th Centrury extended the Vietnam War, set back women’s rights, and slowed the pace of racial progress in the mid and late 20th Century. It’s also part of the reason most people of my generation can name the entire cast of Gilligan’s Island, but couldn’t name the members of their own Congressional delegation.

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Just as cable television in the 90s created a diversity of controversial views (FOX News and MSNBC, for instance), broadband internet gave us an unlimited source of ideas and information – all democratically brought to us by our personal computer. It was just as easy to watch cats driving golf carts on YouTube as it was to learn what was really understand what was happening on the ground in Syria through Twitter.

With the smack of a gavel, a federal court – comprised of luddite judges – allowed Verizon, AT&T, Charter, Comcast, T-Mobile, and the other well-known companies that bring us our signal (through taxpayer-subsidized infrastructure) to arbitrarily select which content is allowed into your computer at high-speed and which is held at dial-up speed. This ruling will once again give monied content suppliers, who can afford to pay higher fees to push their content,  a significant advantage – just like the television networks of the 1970s.

It’s already starting. You may have seen ads for AT&T’s “Sponsored Data.” Basically, the least popular company in the world is offering corporations the ability, for a fee, to offer you, for instance, streaming content without a “cost” to you. In other words, Netflix, the undisputed ruler of evening internet content, can pay AT&T a fee to send you their episodes of “Walking Dead” without it counting against your data plan limitations. That may sound like a great deal for you. But it’s shortsighted. Because, if it’s a choice between a free stream of “Walking Dead” and a documentary about Syria that counts against your data limit, you’ll probably pick the free content. And, “poof,” we’re back to 1973.

“Sponsored Data” by AT&T is just the first step, of course. The behemoth is testing the waters; trying to see how businesses respond to the idea of paying for internet broadcasting. And it’s a smart move. Because most consumers will simply see “free” and click “watch now.” It’s disgusting.

What does the court ruling mean to you and me as bloggers? Well, what happens if you have to pay to get your blog post broadcast to your subscribers? What if you make YouTube videos? You might still be able to upload them, but nobody’s going to download your video if they have to pay – particularly if foxnews.com is offering their blog posts for free as Sponsored Content. That’s how a democratic internet quickly becomes a corporate-run vanilla ABC, NBC, and CBS of the 21st Century.

What can you do? Educate yourself. Learn what America’s corporate internet providers are planning to do to millions of bloggers, independent film makers, makers, and uploaders of niche content.

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