Understanding “net neutrality”

What happens if the big Internet service providers (ISPs) decided to make some online content more readily available than other content? And what if the easy access is provided just to content produced by companies that pay the ISPs for the privelege? Sounds a little scary, right?

Well, that’s the controversy behind the issue of network neutrality. As most of you probably know but don’t really think about – right now your Facebook page loads up just as easily as the NRA’s Web site. That’s because the Internet has been a level playing field for the most part – the ISPs have neither been favoring certain sites or putting others at a disadvantage.

But according to Broadcasting & Cable, some legislators are concerned that that’s changing. They’re calling for an investigation into allegations against several ISPs:

Most of the hullabaloo has been generated by incidents involving Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. Most recently, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator, was allegedly interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing.

For its part, Comcast says it was simply trying to keep the file sharing networks from hogging bandwith and causing a slowdown in service to others.

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Working under pressure

Journalism isn’t an easy job anywhere in the world, but in some parts of the world, it’s downright dangerous. Wael Abbas, an Egyptian blogger, and May Thingyan Hein, a Burmese freelance reporter, have both pushed the limits in their countries by writing about controversial topics at a time when fellow journalists are being censored and jailed. They are the recipients of this year’s Knight International Journalism Awards.

Abbas has broken stories on his Arabic-language blog about police brutality and sexual harassment, forcing the mainstream media to follow up. He’s been able to get photos and video from people with digital cameras and mobile phones, because he says that people in Egypt trust bloggers more than the government-controlled media.

When they have something exclusive they send it to blogggers because they trust that we will publish it. Supporting stories with pictures and video makes it more credible, makes people believe what’s going on…I published video of abuses inside a police station and now we have hard evidence.

The government is now cracking down on bloggers, one of whom is serving a four-year jail term for “insulting Islam and insulting the President.” Abbas himself has been arrested, interrogated and beaten. But he says he’ll keep going. “I want my country to change, to have real democracy, not the charade we have now.”

Tapeless in Savannah

While TV news hasn’t had “Film at 11” for decades, many stations still “go to the videotape.” But the days of using that phrase are numbered, too. In Savannah, Ga., [market #97], the WTOC-TV newsroom went tapeless this summer. Reporter Charles Gray wrote in the station’s newsletter that the advantages are obvious: speed and sharing. Their Panasonic cameras use memory cards, so video doesn’t have to be digitized. Thirty minutes of video can be uploaded in 10 minutes to a server that anyone in the newsroom can access.  Stories are saved as MPEG-2 files.

We air six hours of live, local programming each weekday, and it all features a lot of recorded material. All those stories are kept on our high-speed computer network, where the producers who put our shows together can access them from their desks. The system allows them to preview the video, read the scripts, and make decisions about when they want to air which stories.

The finished product plays from the server to the transmitter with the click of a mouse.  So what’s the new catchphrase going to be?  “Let’s click the mouse” just doesn’t measure up, does it?