December 11, 2017

A report published Monday, ahead of the FCC's Thursday vote to repeal net neutrality, highlights the damage that repeal could have on local news.

The report, "Slowing Down The Presses: The Relationship Between Net Neutrality and Local News," comes out of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

The repeal, which could create tolls for internet companies and tiers of access for consumers, is also expected to damage local news, which is both suffering at the legacy level and just emerging for new online publications, according to the report.

"Local news is valuable in its own right: It serves as a watchdog against corruption and incompetence, provides helpful information to people about their communities, and amplifies minority voices that might otherwise be silenced," the report begins with. "Small outlets are often technologically unsophisticated and struggle to adapt to a changing world; as such, local news providers also serve as a bellwether for the whole universe of websites and applications that are never going to be the “next big thing,” but that nonetheless enrich the lives of their communities of users."

Last month, Matt DeRienzo, executive director of Local Independent Online News Publishers, also wrote about what the repeal would mean for local journalism

Local independent online news sites are springing up all over the country to fill gaps in local journalism, but they rely on an Internet based on a level playing field for all publishers and readers, regardless of size or resources.

If Net Neutrality goes away, big Internet and wireless providers will be able to charge individual publishers for levels of speed and access, a scenario in which a handful of big companies with deep pockets could squeeze out the kind of small, independent news publishers who are part of LION. This would severely limit citizens’ access to information and could be devastating to local news, which big publishers have whittled to the barest of bones

Local news had yet another tough year around the U.S., including shutdowns and layoffs at alt-weeklies and local online sites, and more and more layoffs. But it's also been a year when both legacy and digital local newsrooms have had successes, including local/national partnerships and fellowships, smart physical and cultural adaptations and new models for making money.

Adam Hersh, who wrote the study for Stanford, points out five ways the repeal will make it tougher for local news to figure its way out of a tough decade. 

The general principle of net neutrality is that internet service providers should be prevented from interfering with applications that travel across their networks. But the net neutrality debate, and the FCC’s Open Internet Order, tends to subdivide that general principle into a set of bright-line rules addressing four main areas: (1) charging access fees to application providers or the networks they use to deliver content to broadband ISPs simply to load properly or at all for the ISP’s subscribers; (2) blocking traffic from certain applications altogether; (3) discriminating in the treatment given to traffic from different applications (often called “throttling”); and (4) charging fast lane fees to application providers in return for preferential treatment (often called “paid prioritization”). Each of these practices would have effects on local news.

The FCC votes Thursday, and the repeal is expected. It won't destroy local news, Hersh writes, "but it will slow them down."

You can read Hersh's full report here

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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