Broadcast nightly news shows completely ignored the day's landmark court ruling striking down federal net neutrality regulations, an omission that deals a huge disservice to the public audience and a boon to the news outlets' parent corporations.
Net neutrality -- the principle that corporate internet providers should provide equal access to content for subscribers -- was dealt a serious blow the morning of January 14 when the D.C. Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission's requirement that providers offer equal access to online information, regardless of the source. Prior to the ruling, the FCC prevented internet providers from blocking (or slowing down access to) content in order to benefit their own business interests.
That evening, neither NBC, CBS, nor ABC acknowledged the ruling in their evening news broadcasts.
Here's why that's important -- 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.
This is a huge conflict of interest for the broadcast news channels, as their parent corporations all have a vested interest in striking down net neutrality laws and promoting their own content at the expense of competitors that lack an advantage in size or Internet service. 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.
Vinton Cerf, a computer scientist often recognized as one of the fathers of today's Internet, has observed that such a system without net neutrality “would fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.” And Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, explained the greater implications of net neutrality (emphasis added):
BERNERS-LEE: We need to be able to find ways of coming to agreements with people in other countries, in other cultures, about what we are going to do with our planet and how we are going to solve global warming. For that, we need a very strong democracy. Democracy involves people being informed, being able to communicate, being able to hold each other accountable. And all that absolutely depends on the neutral internet.
The legal future of the FCC's ability to regulate net neutrality remains to be seen. But the failure of the nation's broadcast news to air today's court decision suggests an allegiance closer to the interests of their corporate parents than to those of their public audience.
Image via Steve Rhodes via Creative Commons License