Washington Post: Internet for Us, Not for You

Last Monday’s Washington Post editorial against a “network neutrality” policy illustrates one of the problems when media outlets have far-ranging business interests elsewhere. They usually fail to acknowledge and clearly explain their numerous conflicts of interests—conflicts that may have shaped their editorial position.

In dismissing the call for an open and non-discriminatory broadband Internet as merely the concerns of those interested in a “democratic utopia,” the Post sided with its big media phone and cable brethren. The Post did disclose, in an aside, that since it “owns both cable and Web sites” it had “commercial interests on both sides of this issue.” But the Post wasn’t really being honest with its readers. For example, the Post should have disclosed its parent company is part of the anti-network neutrality movement. The Post Co.’s cable T.V. division president sits on the board of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association; the NCTA is leading the charge against the passage of any network neutrality safeguard. Since it owns those cable systems and their broadband connections, the Post can make sure its content receives preferential treatment in those markets. Moreover, the Post-Newsweek string of TV stations have received (as a result of lobbying Congress), a free set of digital airwaves. The Post will be able to use its digital TV beachfront property to receive preferential broadband treatment in such key markets as Detroit, Houston, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, and San Antonio. It will use this broadband power to help give its already successful web properties, such as Washington Post Interactive and Slate, the needed boost that others won’t likely have without network neutrality rules. (In its most recent [March 7, 2006] annual 10 k report to the SEC, the Post Co. called such Net safeguards a “regulatory burden”).

The Post should also have acknowledged that it is politically supporting the rollback of the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard at the FCC. In a world without media ownership limits and protections for network neutrality, companies such as the Post know they will come out at the top of the media food chain.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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