Broadcast Nightly News Ignore Landmark FCC Proposal On Net Neutrality

Broadcast nightly news shows were silent on the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) landmark proposal that will empower Internet providers to control online content, a decision that could dramatically -- and devastatingly -- reshape the digital landscape and the principle of net neutrality.

On April 23, the FCC announced plans to propose new rules to allow companies to pay internet providers to speed up customers' access to their websites. As the Washington Post reported, the proposal “could give high-speed Internet providers more power on what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most.” It's an open Internet rule that could wipe away net neutrality, the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers.

Since the FCC announced the proposal, none of the broadcast nightly news shows - neither ABC, CBS, nor NBC - have acknowledged the move. This is not the first time evening broadcast shows neglected to give airtime to this topic; on January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the FCC's requirement for net neutrality that lead to the new rule proposal, these same networks did not even acknowledge the ruling in their evening broadcasts.

It's a disappointing, but not surprising, omission. NBC is owned by Comcast Corporation, which bills itself as the nation's largest high-speed Internet provider. CBS' parent company is CBS Corporation, which also owns multiple sports networks and Showtime, while ABC is part of The Walt Disney Company empire, also the owner of ESPN.

Giant corporations like Comcast win under the FCC's proposal, as Time explained:

Under the FCC's new plan, Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T “would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers,” according to an FCC spokesperson. The companies would also be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against online content, but they would be allowed to strike special deals with Internet companies like Netflix or Skype for preferential treatment, as long as they acted in a “commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis.”

The dismantling of net neutrality laws will allow such corporations to promote their own content at the expense of smaller competitors. As PCWorld explained:

Net neutrality advocates fear that without rules in place, big companies like Netflix, Disney, and ESPN could gain advantage over competitors by paying ISPs to provide preferential treatment to their company's data. For example, YouTube might pay extra so that its videos load faster than Hulu's on the ISP's network.

We've already seen shades of What Could Happen in AT&T's Sponsored Data and Comcast's decision to have the Xfinity TV streaming app for the Xbox 360 not count against Comcast subscribers' data caps.

Comcast could soon be even larger. The NBC parent company is currently looking to merge with cable giant Time Warner Cable Inc., and could potentially gain control of one-third of the U.S. broadband market if the merger is approved. As OpenSecrets noted, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable are against net neutrality, and “spent about $19 million and $8 million on lobbying respectively last year,” making them the sixth highest federal lobbying spender.

It's not only smaller companies, but the public that will be harmed by the FCC's ruling. The New York Times noted the warning by consumer advocates that “higher costs to content providers could be passed on to the public,” and could stymie startup innovation. As Vox wrote:

Allowing big companies to pay for prioritized access to consumers flies in the face of the internet's egalitarian ideals, which allow anyone or any company free access to a vibrant market free of tolls or restrictions -- allow service providers like Comcast and AT&T to start creating artificial barriers to entry, and you make it harder for the next generation of college kids to start the next Facebook or Google.

The final decision from the FCC on net neutrality rules remains to be seen. But the failure of the nation's broadcast news to acknowledge the proposed rules suggests an allegiance closer to the interests of their corporate parents than to those of their public audience.


Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of evening network broadcast news on ABC, CBS, and NBC from April 23, 2014 through April 25, 2014. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: FCC, Federal Communications Commission, internet, or net neutrality.

The following programs were included in the data: World News with Diane Sawyer, Evening News (CBS), Nightly News with Brian Williams.