So you’re forgiven if you greeted the hand-wringing over Google and Verizon’s net neutrality pact with an impassioned “who cares?” With the Twitterati voicing “Google is now evil,” and countless articles threatening the death of the Internet, it may seem like much ado about nothing when you can still watch the latest Kanye West video on Vevo’s YouTube channel.
But don’t be fooled: a lot is at stake. What is net neutrality? Simply put, net neutrality is a principle calling for all Internet traffic to be treated equally. This means every website, portal and application is given the same access to bandwidth: Yahoo runs just as fast as Bing. Most cable providers, like Verizon and Comcast, would like to charge companies for bandwidth access. Google pays Verizon for faster YouTube, in a nutshell. Google and Verzion’s pact is halfway between net neutrality and full-on market competition: for now, it calls for most of the web to stay the same but says traffic on mobile devices should be an exception, where some content is faster than others.
What does this mean? It means content hosted by big companies, from video to videogames, would get priority on cell phone devices, and the pact opens the door to discrimination on the web as well. Though unprofitable, YouTube will run fine. It has Google money. But its competitor Vimeo might not. Independent and smaller players would get poorer service and eventually lose its chance to beat out the big guys.
Already, a handful of independent black video networks are springing up, all within the last year or so. RowdyOrbit is already building up a small following as the “black Hulu” for independent film. Coming soon are GLO TV, set for release in Septemember and aimed at black gay audiences, and Better Black TV, Master P’s family-friendly web-only network. All of these sites are among the few aimed explicitly at black (and minority more broadly) content. They are still maturing their business models, and won’t be able to compete against Google’s YouTube-behemoth or increasingly successful Hulu.
Why should black people care? Because black Americans (alongside Latino, Asian, even gay and lesbian Americans) have historically suffered from a lack of media representation. Setting net neutrality aside would damage media diversity, which could then hurt black Americans looking to start a web business and make films for web distribution and, increasingly, mobile distribution. At the same time, you and I would have fewer choices for entertainment.
Let’s take TV as an example. Right now, a lot of black people will tell you there are not enough major black shows on broadcast television — the big guys aren’t as interested in the black market as they were post-Cosby. But because of the digital revolution, we now have a number of cable channels devoted to black content: BET, Centric and TV One, primarily. New networks are starting up, like the Black Broadcasting Network, while other channels are paying attention, like TBS with their slate of Tyler Perry shows and Ice Cube’s Are We There Yet?
The reason why there’s a diversity of content on TV is because cable companies treat all channels equally: TVGuide doesn’t run faster or better than TV One, and it’s just as easy to find Meet the Browns in HD as Meet the Parents.
This is why it’s disheartening, as Kevin Powell wrote at NewBlackMan, that our Congressional leaders are siding with Republicans on net neutrality. This issue isn’t a partisan one. It’s about guaranteeing the right to innovate and ensuring media diversity. Black leaders, of all people, should understand the importance of that. We all should.
LINKS AND RESOURCES
Wiki information (for starters on net neutrality):