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Net neutrality is good for the Internet, bad for Internet journalism
Right now, the barrier to entry online is too low.
Today the Daily Dot, along with many of our Internet brethren, is coming out in favor of net neutrality—the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all Web traffic the same. That is, that ISPs should not be able to make Netflix load faster through your connection than YouTube—and charge Netflix for that privilege.
We are supporting the principle because it is what is good for the Internet. In fact, to eliminate the neutrality of the Internet would be to fundamentally change the nature of the Internet community. A non-neutral Internet would be almost unrecognizable—the very fact that anyone can make anything available to anyone else, whether it’s merely a tweet or a new digital product, is one of the defining characteristics of the community that has become so much a part of our lives.
The Internet may be changing the world in myriad ways, many of them very good, but one field it has changed dramatically is journalism, and those changes have been decidedly mixed.
On the one hand, I love the many new voices, including that of the Daily Dot, that the Internet has made possible. On the other, I worry about the trend we are seeing today off- and online: We are getting more and more repackaged news and less and less new news. The problem is one of resources. Since 2006, total newsroom employees across all media has declined by 30 percent.
The largest purely digital newsroom might be numbered in the dozens; it may even break 100. By contrast, the New York Times’s newsroom is well over 1,000 people.
The reason that the Times can employ so many is because it makes a lot of money—enough money to afford a $300 million newsroom budget. One of the main reasons that the Times can make as much money as it does is because there is an enormous barrier to entry in the newspaper business—the enormous expense of a physical printing press. There is a similar barrier to entry in broadcast forms of media—FCC licenses.
On the Internet, there is no equivalent, and so the cost of entering the market is much lower. And that means that news companies are constantly under threat of facing new competition, and that constant threat limits the prices they can charge. In turn, investors are more reluctant to invest in media companies, knowing there is not a barrier to entry analogous to the printing press or FCC license.
If we were to abandon net neutrality, then ISPs would charge companies, including the Daily Dot, Vox, the Atlantic, and any other large news site to carry their content to consumers, and that expense would be the new printing press. Such a barrier would kill off some smaller competitors and prevent many (but certainly not all) new ones from entering. Revenues at existing companies would increase and there would be more resources available to hire journalists—an online company could conceivably support as many reporters as the New York Times.
Of course, I don’t really want to see us go back to the way things were before the Internet, when print and broadcast journalism were each dominated by a few monopolies, exerting a stifling force of their own. Those monopolies occurred because the barrier to entry got too high. But right now, the barrier to entry online is too low.
Abandoning net neutrality would help the business behind journalism, but there are other things than can (and will) happen to improve it.
In the meantime, the freewheeling Internet that we all know and love is too valuable to sacrifice.
Nicholas White is the founder and editor in chief of the Daily Dot. His work has appeared in Wired, PBS, the Associated Press and elsewhere, and his reporting has been honored for excellence in journalism by the Associated Press.