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How net neutrality impacts online news and faith coverage
Net Neutraility
Everyone's concerned about what the net neutrality debate means for companies like Comcast or Netflix, but the debate could also drive small secular and religious publications into extinction. - photo by istockphoto.com

“If this page was still loading, would you still be here?”

That was the message on many websites subscribing to “Internet Slowdown Day,” a demonstration for major sites like Etsy and Netflix in favor of net neutrality. As ABC reported, the “spinning wheel of death” greeted users who logged onto participating sites, asking them to support net neutrality and stop ISPs like Comcast from charging websites a premium for faster Internet speeds.

But the consequences of the Federal Communication Commission allowing premium charges don’t only have repercussions for online business, but also for online journalism. If a tax was put on faster Internet speeds, only news organizations of a certain size might be able to participate, as Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute pointed out.

“If a provider gives Netflix priority streaming, its faster, smoother service makes it a more attractive alternative to over-the-air broadcasting,” Tompkins wrote. “If a newspaper of the future provided video that always loaded fast, never buffered, played without fail, it would have a big advantage over a smaller publication whose data sputtered its way to the user.”

Internet presence is a big deal for any business or information source these days, but it’s crucial for news organizations hoping to stay afloat, as Pew Research Center reported in 2013 that half of all Americans get their news online. The Daily Dot reported that since 2006, employment across all news media has declined by 30 percent.

But it isn’t just small news outfits that would have to worry about staying relevant in a pay-to-play Internet. Faith publications like Catholic News Service, The Christian Post and the Religious Communicators Council have all expressed concerns that news and information geared toward faith-minded audiences might fall through the cracks.

“If the Internet evolves into a ‘pay-to-play’ situation, religious and other noncommercial websites would have to pay fees to have their Web sites open to users as easily as those of large commercial entities -- if they could afford to pay such fees,” Catholic News Service reported.

And putting faith publications in an Internet “slow lane” wouldn’t just stop institutional information, RCC reported, it could inhibit spreading the gospel.

“[We] strongly support an open Internet for its vibrant role in helping underserved communities speak for themselves and in their own voices, as well as its role in bringing the church’s message to its members and the public,” the RCC published on its site.

The FCC has not yet announced when it will end its indefinite public comment period on the neutrality issue and make a decision about premiums.

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com, Twitter: ChandraMJohnson