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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: The Free Press and free access to internet is challenged in the U.S.

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Information sharing and the delivery of news from media outlets has shifted from traditional platforms to digital delivery via the internet—which is now threatened.

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“I have decided to hibernate,” I said to Jock.

“Well, you have a nice fire and two dogs,” he observed as we sat by the wood stove and the dogs flanked me on either side of the couch. “It looks like you are set.” He sipped his beer.

“This is a very basic thing: hibernating for the winter,” he added.

Of course, it is not really winter here—yet. Not to mention, I am too much of a workaholic to genuinely hibernate. But the news of late is so overwhelming, it really does make me want to cuddle up with Jock, the dogs and a good book—to ignore the rest of the world for a solid four months.

NET NEUTRALITY NIGHTMARE: Packages above are examples of how access to the internet will look and be charged if net neutrality is dismantled. Courtesy image

NET NEUTRALITY NIGHTMARE: Packages above are examples of how access to the internet will look and be charged if net neutrality is dismantled. Courtesy image

However, reality intrudes quite often. For example, the plan by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow internet providers to choose websites their customers can see and access is incredibly distressing. As it stands, Ajit Pai, current chairman of the FCC, has proposed a change to the net neutrality rule that would allow service providers to choose the websites they will deliver to their customers. In addition, they would be able to charge websites for the privilege of delivering their content to internet users. In addition, as The Washington Post noted, “The change axes a host of consumer protections, including privacy requirements and rules barring unfair practices that gave consumers an avenue to pursue complaints about price gouging.”

I know! For an avowed Luddite, such as myself, this has to be the last topic encore readers would expect me to be upset about. Before ensuing eye-rolls, let’s unpack this a little.

Information sharing and the delivery of news from media outlets has shifted from traditional platforms like the 6 p.m. local news broadcast and the hard copy newspaper to digital delivery via the internet. Though the idea of a calculator, let alone a personal computer was beyond the wildest dreams of the framers of our Constitution, access to information, a free press to hold the powers that be accountable and the ability of the people to congregate and share information, were all essential rights to the survival of the new nation. In this day and age, the internet is the tool used to accomplish all aims. For Verizon or AT&T to have the ability to choose not to deliver news outlets they don’t like is a real possibility here. More likely, they will create two tiers (or more) for internet usage based upon the ability for companies to pay, which will be passed on to consumers. For high-speed delivery and access, there would be premium pricing. For the rest of us mere mortals, a much slowed-down version of the internet would emerge.

Cash-strapped nonprofit? Small business with a low budget? Schools with limited funds? Which world will you be relegated to? Do you have a small business that uses the internet to advertise or actually process orders? Are you already paying for search engine optimization (SEO), or as the phrasing goes “to be on the first page of Google results”? Do you want to do that not only for every search engine but also for each internet service provider in the country? Can you afford to?
Of course, the big companies are promising there is nothing to worry about: They will have everyone’s best interest at heart. Do you believe that?

“Because if I need an ambulance I do not trust you in an emergency.” For years this was my answer to the sales reps from Time Warner (now Spectrum) when they tried to sell me digital phone service for the book store. We were hold outs—we still had AT&T until it got to the point we were paying almost $200 a month for a basic service that did not include long-distance calling. I was still adamant. Anthony pointed out that, between the number of people with cell phones, the horse and bike cops, and the surrounding businesses, if we really needed an ambulance for any reason (let us hope not, but if gods forbid), there would be plenty of options beyond Time Warner (now Spectrum). So we finally dropped our absurdly expensive phone service and went to a digital line. But do I trust them with human life? No. Definitely not.

Trust them to have our best interests at heart?

Trust them to provide access to the full scope of information for the general public, especially at election time? Even information that doesn’t show them in a favorable light? Or that is against the company’s own political interests?

At what point does a news outlet break a story that threatens to topple an internet service provider (ISP), or their political interests, and said ISP suddenly stops delivering their content or slows down delivery to a point it is almost inaccessible?

Now on a slightly more mundane level, how much money are you willing to pay for a fast internet connection? And if it’s slow, can you tolerate it? Folks who came of age in the 2000s and do not remember life before wireless, let me tell you a little bit about the early stages of home internet:

My father was fascinated by it. We had one of the early accounts with WISE (Wilmington internet Service Providers)—a dial-up modem. If anyone in the house picked up the phone, it killed the internet connection. We could install a separate phone line for the modem, of course. I was in one of the first virtual high school classes offered at New Hanover High School. So I could do class work at home if I wanted to, and I did. The connection speed was so slow and loading time so long, I could read an entire issue of Newsweek while waiting for each module to load for my class work. It might sound inconceivable to a generation who has never known internet speed that slow. But it is still real in other parts of the world. Ever noticed the button at the bottom of an email says “Load Basic HTML” (for slow connections)? When we travel in Africa and check email at internet cafes, that option is essential. So we carry a book or magazine to read while we wait for it to load.

Essentially, that very well could be us in the U.S.—and any small business that would like a level playing field to compete in the American economy.

Our household spends a lot of time reading newspapers from Canada, the UK, and parts of Africa. Partly it is because Jock works internationally; partly it is in an effort to develop and maintain a larger world view not only of our domestic political situation but where the U.S. fits in the world. Access to information has never been so prevalent before, but it is essential to developing our country and our citizenry. It is why the First Amendment was important to our founders and why it should be paramount to us.

The freedom of the press, assembly and speech are not guaranteed to the person or company with the most money or the most influence. They are guaranteed to all the people. We the people…

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