INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson
In my January 2009 column, I encouraged readers to make opening up the media in Canada their 2010 resolution. I asserted that 2010 would be a pivotal year for communities working to open communication in Canada and beyond. And so here we are at the end of the year and it appears that, indeed, there is a growing community focused on openness, with the open Internet at its core.
For example, more than 22,000 people (and counting) have signed the Stop The Meter petition (http://openmedia.ca/meter), demonstrating widespread discontent with big telecom companies that are attempting to hogtie competing indie Internet service providers (ISPs) and make the Internet much more expensive to use.
What about 2011?
While the open media community will likely continue to gain momentum, I believe that, in 2011, innovation will take on an increasingly central role in defining the future of communications and society in general.
Here’s the situation:
1. Big Internet service providers (Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Videotron) plan to make Internet access more expensive by imposing usage-based billing (charging per byte). According to StopUBB.ca, this could cost Internet users $60 more per month starting this year.
2. Many of these same providers continue to slow access to innovative online content and services. Most recently, Rogers’ customers reported problems accessing content after the company experimented with its traffic-slowing technology.
3. Major Internet service providers are investing in and experimenting with a new, more controlled version of the Internet, delivered through TV and mobile devices.
What this amounts to is a campaign to make the Internet more expensive and circumscribed while providers experiment with their “managed” TV/mobile Internet services. The market is being structured so that, either way, the big telecom companies win. They either successfully corral us into their TV version of the Internet, make the Internet more expensive and restricted, or both.
What does this have to do with innovation?
The main challenge with initiatives designed to preserve and build on the open Internet is that people take the Internet for granted. This is where online innovators play an essential role.
Big telecom companies will make deals with Facebook and other big players so that you’ll find them on your Internet TV. However, you might have trouble finding the small, independent online services like those that carry this column or the new crowd-sourced journalism project OpenFile, CBC Radio 3 and innovative services like HootSuite.
Innovation takes centre stage
Canadians need to understand the value of online innovation. Innovators in Canada need to be, well, more innovative. They need to be de facto champions of openness – just as many of their predecessors have been.
Canadians will step up to defend the open Internet more whole-heartedly when its value is more clearly demonstrated. Online innovators and the community that support them need to capture more audience from big media.
If Canadians en masse are more deeply engaged by, and fall in love with, innovative online services and content, they will be better equipped to defend the open Internet when needed. More importantly, Canadians will actually notice that “Internet” services provided on TV don’t include their favourite online services.
Innovation isn’t just an awesome thing to do; it has played and will increasingly continue to play an essential role in ensuring that the revolution unfolding in communication continues.
Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.