Free Community Papers Supporting Net Neutrality

By: Mark Fitzgerald

At least one part of the newspaper industry is not staying neutral on net neutrality — free community papers.

In filings with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Association of Free Community Papers (AFCP) and state and regional community paper associations are on record supporting the commission’s rule-making efforts to require Internet service providers to provide all customers with the same quality of Web access.

In one filing, for instance, the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association, on behalf of the AFCP and eight other associations says the free papers’ business model is analogous to Web sites at a time when increasing numbers of newspapers are contemplating paywalls or metering systems for their online content.

“Collectively, we’ve served nearly every community in America long before the ‘pay to read’ model of dissemination began to erode,” wrote Jim Haigh, government relations consultant for the Mid-Atlantic association. “For us, ‘hyper-local’ is not the latest buzzword or strategic bandwagon, rather instead it is our enduring business model. No shortage of major players, from legacy media to data aggregators, are just now ‘discovering’ the untapped promise of our neighborhoods, real or imagined.”

Making another analogy, the filing said community papers can telephone potential advertising customers without worrying the phone company will clog the line with artificial busy signals or reroute inbound calls to a Yellow Pages sales representative.

“But today, our Internet-based communications receive no such treatment under force of law,” Haigh wrote. “It’s no secret that print advertising revenues are shifting online. The future of our industry’s collective enterprise depends on our readership having uncompromised access to our websites. Fair and robust competition in the digital age can only be achieved by equal access and neutral treatment of traffic across platforms and devices.’

In another filing, community paper groups support net neutrality in a joint filing with a wide range of unlikely allies, including Media Access Project, the United Church of Christ, trade unions and the Esperanza Center for Peace and Justice.

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