News Coverage of Net Neutrality Found Lacking

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Net neutrality is one of those little-known and little understood political issues that’s not sensational or sexy enough to receive the news coverage it deserves given the effect that the Federal Communication Commission’s decision on the matter will have on the Internet landscape, innovation in the technology sphere, and how Americans consume media content.

On May 15, the FCC announced a notice of proposed rule making, giving four months for anyone and everyone to comment on how the organization should proceed with reinstating some sort of net neutrality rules after the current laws were shot down in court in January. At that same time, the Pew Research Center released the results of a study that found media coverage on this important issue has been sorely lacking and that Americans have not been provided with the information about net neutrality that they need in order to understand the concept.

The study looked at media coverage of the issue since January coming from television and print news, as well as trending topics online via social media and using Google Trends. Overall, much more attention to the topic was given online than anywhere else, with coverage almost nonexistent in both television news and newspapers.

As for television coverage, Pew’s research found that out of 2,820 news programs aired between January 1 and May 12 on eight different network and cable news channels, only 25 programs mentioned net neutrality. The real kicker is that out of those 25, eight were found on Al Jazeera America, a channel that not many people even get. Newspapers had slightly better coverage of the topic, but most of the stories about net neutrality were relegated to just six newspapers not counting The Wall Street Journal.

Overall, most of the conversation about net neutrality is happening online via avenues such as Twitter. While these places are good areas to foster discussion, they aren’t where people uninformed about net neutrality are going to receive information as to how important the issue is without actively looking for it.

Those who are talking about net neutrality, though, are almost completely in support of open Internet laws being enforced. Of the 643,284 tweets analyzed by Pew between January 1 and May 12 using the words “net neutrality,” basically all were expressing support. “In fact, researchers were unable to find even enough tweets in opposition of net neutrality to run the kind of computer analysis on tone the Pew Research has done for other issues,” the firm said.

Many people view net neutrality as a more complicated issue than they’re capable of understanding, and some see it as just a bipartisan fight between Democrats fighting for stronger regulation and Republicans pushing for a stricter adherence to free market principles. While this is partially true, the decision on net neutrality will have a big impact on how media is consumed and could very well cause Internet costs to rise, so the average consumer should be taking interest in what’s going to happen.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai issued a statement at the same time as the issue of proposed rule making, saying that he believes the elected officials that make up Congress should be the ones to make the decision on such an important matter. “A dispute this fundamental is not for us, five unelected individuals, to decide. Instead it should be resolved by the people’s elected representatives, those who choose the direction of the government — and those who the American people can hold accountable for that choice,” Pai said. The problem is the American people don’t seem to care too much about the choice that’s made.

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