Out of 1.2 trillion Google searches in 2012, Trayvon Martin was the ninth most searched event. But the unarmed black teen who was fatally shot in Florida may have never become a household name if it wasn’t for Twitter, Facebook and the blogs that kept his story in the news until it reached a national level.
Now black and Latino net neutrality advocates say it will be much harder, and maybe even impossible, to catapult stories like Martin’s to a national level if new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ‘fast lane’ rules are implemented.
Martin was shot dead by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012. It wasn’t until March 16 that national coverage of Martin’s death intensified. But in those three weeks, small local news sites, blogs and black news sites continued reporting on the story until it was one that national broadcast networks could no longer ignore.
Internet neutrality advocates (or activists who believe that all Internet traffic should be treated equally) say a similar media experience like Trayvon Martin’s would be harder to replicate if the FCC’s new rules are implemented.
The proposed rules “would also allow providers to give preferential treatment to traffic from some content providers, as long as such arrangements are available on ‘commercially reasonable’ terms for all interested content companies,” reported the Washington Post, who obtained a leaked copy of the proposal before the FCC announced its plans. “Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.”
“It’s really a freedom of speech issue and the right to speak freely and the FCC is basically turning control over to the internet service providers so they can determine who gets to speak and who doesn’t, they’re the ones will end up determining if they speed or slow down your content,” said Joseph Torres, a senior director at Free Press, a group that advocates for universal and affordable Internet access.
"The FCC chairman plans to deliver a gift for ISPs, who are among the most powerful and profitable corporations in the world, at the expense of muting the most vulnerable voices in our society," Torres said.
The FCC chairman disagrees. He says “there has been a great deal of misinformation,” since the Washington Post published their story on the FCC’s plans.
“To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.
“No legal content may be blocked,” the chairman went on to say.
Content may not be blocked but certain web pages could load slower than others.
“Essentially what is happening is that our internet will look more like our cable system where in order to access different types of channels or services you have to pay more,” explained Rashad Robinson, director of ColorOfChange , the nation’s largest online civil rights organization.
The new FCC rules could pave the way for more agreements where content providers team up with internet service providers.
In February, Comcast, the country’s largest cable and broadband provider, and the streaming media company Netflix, reached an agreement so that their content has faster and more reliable connections to Comcast subscribers.
“Historically the internet has been a place where a young mother in the inner city could start a blog and be able to push out ideas, or where young kids in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin could start Tumblrs and say that they too are Trayvon, or the DREAMers who have been able to tell their stories and advance their cause,” Robinson said.
“But what we’re moving in to now is a system where the price of entry, the price to be able to compete and to have your information be accessible will be much higher,” Robinson went on to say.
“More and more everyday people will be priced out.”
The new proposal will be reviewed during the FCC's May 15 meeting.