The End of the Blogosphere?
March 1, 2006
By Mitchell Szczepanczyk
have gained a growing cultural and political impact in the United
States and worldwide. In the United States, they've been credited
with playing a key role the resignation of a U.S. Senate Majority
Leader and the public repudiation of a longtime TV news anchor.
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of the English language deemed "blog"
its word of the year in 2004. The Technorati website boasts that
it keeps track of some 28 million blogs worldwide.
Undeniably, blogs and their collective identity known as the "blogosphere"
have become an extraordinary phenomenon. And no matter what topics
they may discuss or what political leanings they may espouse, they
are all under grave and immediate threat.
The threat involves the issue of "net neutrality" the idea that
those who manage the virtual roads for internet and digital communications
don't discriminate who travels on those roads and why. But America's
major cable and telecommunications companies are heavily lobbying
Congress now to change that.
Companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast want to abolish net
neutrality and set up the virtual equivalent of tolls on the internet.
The idea would be to set up separate tiers of internet access -
the digital equivalent of a ten-lane superhighway alongside a single-lane
dirt road. If you want to access the superhighway, you'd have to
pay AT&T or whomever extra fees through a virtual toll for that
access - a source of fantastic profit potential for the would-be
tollkeepers on the internet. But those who can't afford the superhighway
can still take the dirt road, right?
Here's the problem for bloggers and other alternative and independent
media producers who distribute media via the internet: Those who
can't afford that privileged access will far outnumber those who
can, and the result would be, as Ben Scott from the media activist
organization Free Press put it, to "banish hundreds of thousands
of bloggers to the slow lane".
As a result, that digital dirt road will be endlessly clogged
and more than likely face considerable delays to try to access media
content on the internet. And that access isn't just simple webpages
but also other media like television and radio which are becoming
and will become digitized and thus rely on the internet as the major
means of transit.
This will then lead to a Catch-22 for bloggers. Either pay the
telecom companies hefty ongoing fees which you may or may not afford,
or face the digital equivalent of a black hole where you can't easily
or readily access independent media content. Either way, the abolition
of net neutrality will dissuade a great many online media producers
and consumers, thereby striking an effective death blow to the blogosphere
and the variety and diversity currently on the internet. The advantage
would thus go to already wealthy and entrenched media producers.
In the federal government in Washington, the main legislation
concerning the media in the United States - the Telecommunications
Act - is being rewritten, and the fate of net neutrality (and perhaps
the future of the internet) rests in the balance. Unfortunately,
Net Neutrality clauses have been struck out of the most recent draft
of the Telecom Act.
Now the blogosphere may face its greatest challenge: saving itself.
Fortunately, there are recent media-related victories that can
be drawn upon for inspiration. In 2003, activists across the political
spectrum joined in widespread protest and outrage against the FCC
as it tried to implement a series of controversial media ownership
rules. That response fueled a successful emergency court order and
subsequent lawsuit which rolled back the rules for the time being.
When the dust settled, some three million people responded to
the FCC against its controversial rules - a response unprecedented
in the FCC's history. The same or larger scale of response to Congress
will be needed to preserve net neutrality. And the blogosphere,
with its millions of active folks online, hold that very potential
to rally widespread awareness of net neutrality and keep the internet
If you have a blog or independent media website, consider learning
more about net neutrality, discussing it on your website, linking
to some of the net neutrality campaigns already underway like Net
Freedom Now by Free Press (www.freepress.net)
or Protect Net Neutrality by Common Cause (www.commoncause.org),
and contact your representatives in Congress to encourage them to
preserve net neutrality. One group I work with, Chicago Media Action,
has made available a series of net neutrality banner ads to use
on your website to promote the issue, online at CMA's website (www.chicagomediaaction.org).
The blogosphere has been rewriting the internet. Whether it will
continue to do so depends on whether or not it steps up to help
preserve net neutrality.
Mitchell Szczepanczyk (www.szcz.org)
is an organizer with Chicago Media Action, a contributor to Chicago
Indymedia and Third Coast Press, and the host of a weekly radio
show on WHPK, the radio station of the University of Chicago.