What is the Internet? To some, it’s an organic and evolving community that’s built of ever-shifting networks of people. To others, it’s the Wild West, in which cat photos or the meme of the day dominates over government press releases, for better or for worse.
Should There Be a Boss of the Internet?
Control of information flow on the web is one of the issues at stake in the discussions of net neutrality. Proponents of an open web argue that every internet user has an equal opportunity to be heard, regardless of their origin, their financial means, their content, or the way they convey their information. The net neutrality discussion is a reaction to the idea that service providers would be able to control and prioritize information that’s circulated on the net.
Is Life In the Fast Lane Really a Big Deal?
In the evening rush hour, most people face the same dilemma: getting home in time for dinner. Now imagine that a select few could slip into the fast lane. They’d be chewing on their steak before the traffic-stressed hordes returned from work.
The creation of an internet fast lane is a hot topic in the net neutrality world. If certain sites have faster loading times, that could change web users’ behavior, giving those sites an advantage. In April 2014, the Federal Communications Commission allowed companies to pay extra to internet providers like Verizon and Comcast so that they could get special, faster web lanes to send out their content.
What You Get is What You Watch
Does it really matter if certain pieces of content get priority billing on the internet? For those who value the unlimited exchange of information and opinions, it does. If a company can’t afford to move its content onto the fast track, it could lose out on potential customers who just don’t have the patience to wait. This gives larger companies an advantage over the small players who have equally small budgets. This problem is especially acute in the area of video content, because it loads more slowly.
The Media and the Message
How could decisions about net neutrality impact media outlets? A fast lane and a slow lane on the internet could impact how consumers of information interact with their data, especially as more and more news moves onto the web and as younger viewers shift more of their viewing to online sources of news. If consumers are looking for news, will they choose to stick with a small, independent start up site that loads slowly, or will they head to one of the larger sites with speedy video? Stuck in the slow lane, news sites with alternative or niche viewpoints and start up media sites may not be able to distribute their information as easily.
Shifting the Balance
Allowing web sites into the fast lane could also yield financial benefits. In 2010, Google incorporated site speed into its vast search algorithm, which means that all else being equal, faster sites get slightly higher billing in search engine rankings. Those who get the views will also reap the ad revenues, making it easier for those who pay for premium access to afford to keep it.
Will the result be an internet that’s skewed in favor of the bigger players, especially when it comes to slow-loading video content? An internet fast lane could impact smaller organizations that rely on slow-loading content, but much depends on how other factors such as search engine algorithms and consumer behavior move in response.