Opinion

Freedom of Speech Becomes Freedom of Internet

Is All Broadband Created Equal

by Clifford Michel

The internet has forced industries to change. It has brought music into the digital age and united friends and family who were previously worlds apart. Less glaringly, it has given a voice to those who never had one. Bloggers such as Bill Simmons brought a new point of view to the sports world, comedians launched careers by talking to a camera on YouTube, and ideas that were rarely discussed have reached the forefront of American politics via independent publications.

The internet was once a coveted place where anyone had an equal opportunity to be heard. But now with corporations dominating the market and laws made for companies to discriminate against websites of their choosing, the internet will slowly marginalize the creative voices that made it so unique.

In the early 2000’s internet users had the ability to be discovered and new innovations were celebrated. There were certain YouTube channels and blogs that catered solely towards one specific topic; these ranged from focusing on one player from any professional sport to the political discourse of a local county. Focusing on these niche audiences paved the way for several successful companies, including: Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and Politico. Business Insider gained a swell of attention after the general public began to be more interested in business practices following the 2008 recession, the company received an uptick in viewers which it has maintained.

The Huffington Post has risen to prominence as it has changed the discourse of the country with its intense devotion to social justice. Politico capitalized on capturing the attention of political junkies by providing intense non-partisan coverage of the D.C. landscape.

The internet differed so greatly from other forms of communication as it created communities for people, which led to users being more invested in online content. It worked almost as a direct democracy where the popular content always rises to the top, giving all users a fair chance at having their content heralded. The internet provided such a strong sense of belonging for many–it changed the structure that old media had of one way communication.

Instead, the internet promoted a two way form of communication. It allowed for a true democracy where no commercial time or ad space intervene with getting content across. The influence of wealthy donors and special interests groups did not affect the popular form of communication in its earlier days. This resulted in free unfiltered ideas that included the voices of all individuals.

With corporate America taking a stab at their chance for internet fame, net neutrality laws being encroached upon, the once free forum may become just as restricted as older forms of media. While there was never a central website that all blogs were posted on, YouTube was, and still is, the most popular video sharing site in the world. Multiple personalities owe their celebrity status to the website. But in recent years, YouTube has no longer become a place for the everyman.

While they are still successful independent video bloggers, most of them use professional cameras and even have production teams. Companies now pay for their videos to show up at the top of certain searches in order to reach a larger audience. The most subscribed list has overseen a dramatic change in recent years; barely any of the Top 100 Most Subscribed Channels are from self-made video bloggers. They only inhabit a small fraction of the list, while the rest is made up of professional singers and entertainment companies.

Internet providers are now also taking part of limiting the voices of others on the internet by challenging the Federal Communications Commission. In 2010 the FCC established the Open Internet Order, which implemented rules requiring transparency and prohibiting blocking and unreasonable discrimination online. The order was challenged by several large communication companies, such as Verizon (slowed down the speed of Netflix streaming) and Metro PCS (only allowed viewers to stream YouTube videos), which wished to block or provide different coverage from competitors.

On January 14, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in D.C. overturned the FCC’s order. The rules against blocking lawful websites and engaging in unreasonable discrimination of certain websites were abandoned. Immediately after this occurred, AT&T sent out several patents. Some speculate that the communications giant may take advantage of the ruling. Now that large communication corporations have the ability to filter what is provided to users, it is entirely possible that the voices that made the internet such a unique experience can now be silenced.

The United States’ is far from the limited internet and media structure seen in China, North Korea, or Russia. But when corporations are put in charge of deciding what content is fit for the country to witness, the nation starts to go down an unsteady road.

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