It’s difficult to miss the current debate over what’s known as net neutrality, or the rules that govern how the Internet works. Last week the New York Times proclaimed, “F.C.C., in a Shift, Backs Fast Lane for Web Traffic.” The proposed changes may have implication for all online businesses, and the news business will not be exempt.
Until now, the F.C.C. has maintained that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must allow Internet traffic to move back and forth without discrimination based on who owns or who’s requesting the content. (ISPs are the companies that connect you to the Internet at one end of the “pipe” and content providers to the other end.) Now the government is considering allowing ISPs to created paid fast lanes that would allow some content to get to users faster and more reliably than other content.
The fear among critics of this idea is that innovation will be stunted because larger, well-established entities will gain control over the fast lanes and new market entrants will be forever disadvantaged. Proponents, naturally, say this is a long overdue fix to an imbalance in Internet economics and no one will be harmed unilaterally.
As an excellent summary in The Atlantic netted it out, this debate isn’t about neutrality, it’s about determining “where innovation actually begins and what the government should do to encourage it.” I suspect that will be true for new online models for news.
While I’d prefer the government play as small a role as possible in the evolution of models for news, it shouldn’t be lost on us that what gets decided about the future of net neutrality may have a big impact on which business models will be viable for journalism, and which won’t have a chance of succeeding, no matter how clever or innovative.