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by Marc Jampole The growth of the Internet was expected to level the playing field between large and small companies and between rich and poor individuals and organizations. Sure, the wealthy and large could buy more ads, but the cost to set up a web page or blog — and later to build a network through social media — made it easier for the little guy to compete. It seemed as if the world could really operate according to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idealistic notion that “if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door,” without the investment of millions into marketing communications. Inherent in the promise of the web was the principle of a free market for good, services, and ideas, undistorted by size, clout or spending. But no market is ever absolutely free. The biggest players seem always to make sure of that. Without the constraint of government regulations, over time the large and connected will always crowd everyone else out of the marketplace, whether we are talking about widgets or political views. Large companies once hired children to work in factories until child labor laws. They sold adulterated food until the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906 and other laws. They got together to fix prices until the government stepped in. They opposed minimum mileage and seat belts in cars until the federal government stepped in. But when it comes to the Internet and other media of mass communications, it seems that the government only steps in to help the big players. We currently face three controversies that together could rip to shreds any hope of obtaining the state of grace predicted by Internet utopians. In fact, if the federal government makes the wrong decision in all three of these areas, we may end up living in a de facto state of censorship in which we can exercise freedom of speech but only the largest corporations and the richest people will actually be able to get through to significant numbers of people:
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal to end net neutrality
- The merger of Comcast and Time Warner
- The unfair monopolistic actions taken by Amazon.com against Hachette Book Group