I was pretty busy this past weekend, having attended a couple panel discussions held by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ). It was during a NAHJ panel discussion on the Internet’s impact on print media that Free Press and Color of Change had an opportunity to share with journalists in the Hispanic community how net neutrality would positively impact the media. Unfortunately for Free Press and Color of Change they never made their case, probably because there was no case to make.
Right now traditional media, in particular print media, is struggling to find its way and place in the new media world. It is well documented that print media has been losing revenues and subscribership over the past few years as more information consumers decide to obtain their news from the Internet.
Does the fall off in print media subscribership mean that there is a reduced demand for news? Of course not. Did we stop listening to music because we replaced 8-tracks with MP-3s and iTunes? All we have done is change the method of content delivery. The content and its importance is still the same.
What journalists, especially journalists in the African American and Hispanic American communities should be concerned about is the impact that a net neutrality policy will have on the price that information consumers will have to pay for accessing content provided via the Internet. As minority publications struggle to find a space in the new media market, the last thing we want to see are increases in fees that consumers will have to pay. Under net neutrality and broadband reclassification, it will become more expensive for information consumers to access new media content.
For example, if the Federal Communications Commission is successful in reclassifying broadband as telecommunications, I expect, at a minimum, a ten percent increase in monthly costs for getting online. Why? Because all of a sudden that broadband pipe from Comcast or Time Warner that we use to access the Internet will get hit with what is called a subscriber line charge or SLC.
Currently a monthly charge of $6.50, the SLC is assessed to recover the costs for providing telephone subscribers with the opportunity to make a long distance phone call. With reclassification, your broadband pipe becomes a phone line and you are hit with an extra $6.50 a month in fees.
I don’t know about you, but $6.50 is two gallons of gas that a single parent has to put in the tank to get their kids to school. Given the income and employment pressures that the minority community is especially susceptible to, do you think we are going to buy broadband?
Unfortunately, this is one of the many downsides of a net neutrality and reclassification concept; a downside that Free Press and Color of Change are too afraid to share with us. Net neutrality, by making access to information more expensive for consumers, will have a negative effect on journalists and minority-owned and focused publications in the new media era. It’s a concept that we cannot afford.