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The FCC is taking aim at the internet and local news. One can be saved. The other is already broken.

First, the FCC wants to repeal net neutrality regulations that keep the internet an even playing field. Service providers could block content, slow down content or charge content providers for faster speeds. Telecoms, including AT&T, Spectrum and Comcast would have enormous power to control our internet experience.

Net neutrality has been crucial to innovation and the free sharing of information. The FCC could vote on the repeal in just a couple weeks.

Second, the FCC voted to change media ownership rules. Companies can now own two of the top four television stations in a market. They can also own a television station and a newspaper. These rules benefit companies like Sinclair, owner of 13WHAM-TV, and Nexstar, owner of WROC-TV.

What could this mean for Rochester? Media expert Scott Fybush doesn’t see a lot of movement. “The Department of Justice antitrust division will step in to quash anything that would give one owner more than about 40 percent of market revenue, which would make a (WROC-WHEC) combo challenging,” he said.

Rochester has already been impacted by Big Media. Sinclair, Nextar and Gannett feed their shareholders, not their workers. The quantity and quality of local journalists and the work they produce has declined rapidly. We have wonderful young reporters with bright futures, but they’re not making salaries that would enable them to stick around. This means we’ll never again have a generation of journalists equipped with institutional knowledge and the capability of holding the powerful accountable.

Critics believe the FCC’s new ownership rules were crafted to help Sinclair, which wants to merge with Tribune. The deal would give Sinclair access to 70 percent of U.S. households. This is problematic because Sinclair forces its stations to run conservative commentaries and right-leaning news reports. 13WHAM has no choice in airing this content.

The gaps in local news coverage can be partly filled by alternative weeklies and nonprofit news sources. Rochester for All hopes to eventually play a role in this space. Traditional news outlets, however, still have the resources and the audience. It’s sad they’re a shadow of their former selves. That’s not going to change.

The damage to our local news landscape has been done. However, we can still stop the repeal of net neutrality. Battleforthenet.com provides tools to learn more about the issue and how to voice your concerns.

Author: Rachel Barnhart

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