Volume 93, Issue 74

Thursday, February 10, 2000


AOL takes a byte out of the net

Indies find the source before the majors

AOL takes a byte out of the net

By Katy deVries
Gazette Writer

Free unregulated terrain and open-ended travel on the internet may soon be stymied by the merger of America Online Inc., Time-Warner Inc. and EMI.

The alliance of these three major corporations has caused concern in the media industry as to how amalgamating these corporate giants will effect the average internet user.

AOL has become a portal to all areas of the world which allows the subscriber to use many different kinds of services such as email accounts, chat rooms and, at the touch of a button, be privy to a myriad of information. The merger will not affect AOL's services and they will continue to feature the same access with tremendous search engines, said Nicholas Graham spokesperson for AOL.

"The only change that will occur will be in terms of getting much richer content," he said. "This is a thriving business and it is a very competitive market. If we're to continue being number one on the web, then we need to be the best we can be for our subscribers," he said.

With regards to the content of AOL becoming slanted or regulated by Time-Warner, Graham assured that no one, not even CBS or The New York Times, has questioned the journalistic integrity of Time.

However, Eric Daugavietis, Information and Technology Services client support associate at Western, said ideas and images were already controlled and regulated by AOL's internet package.

"AOL is value-added because it offers advantages like more specialized versions of Netscape and it is wide open with plenty of choices – however it is a more controlled environment. Because of the necessary software, they can control the content and the advertising," Daugavietis said, adding the information is definitely slanted.

He explained that AOL, which was slightly more expensive than other comparable internet service providers, demands that you buy their software in order to get access to these value-added services.

However, if there are problems with the service it is more difficult to track down a help desk to solve the situation than if the Internet Service Provider were local.

While this provides competition on the internet, smaller ISPs have a greater chance of getting lost on this World Wide Web.

"There is no real freedom of speech issue and it is not really a monopoly yet, because there are lots of these companies out there – but it is too early to make judgments because we don't know exactly what will happen," said Peter Fleming, media consultant and former director general of the broadcast planning branch at the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission.

Fleming added there are limits to free reign on the internet and while he could not predict the future, he said these companies have the potential to remove the competition.

"The smaller companies do not have the expertise nor the money to compete. They can still have a voice on the internet, but they cannot express it as meaningfully because they don't have the resources. How do you know if these sites even exist?"

Fleming stipulated there was a greater concern for the domination of the entertainment industry, as it has typically been a more lucrative business than news.

Rebecca Nelems, director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, said she believed while the merger was still in its early stages, there was a fear that equal access to the internet lines would dissipate if the large media outlets began to dominate. CJFE is a non-profit company that deals with issues of free and fair access to the internet.

Nelems described an open access campaign – a movement originating in the U.S. offering a regulatory body to help ensure there is open access to the internet cable wires.

"There is some fear that when these lines open up for competition, certain ISPs will not be able to access the lines – there is certainly a concern that these large mergers may result in a denial of this free access," she said.

Peter Desbarats, former dean of journalism at Western, contended that anyone could be their own publisher on the internet, however, it would be the larger, more powerful companies who would be heard because it is their everyday business.

"These problems already exist in television and newspapers, so it was only a matter of time before the internet followed suit," he said, questioning if the internet had ever truly been free.

Local London ISPs could also eventually feel the effects of the merger.

Shawn Clark, office manager at Odyssey Network Inc., said if the trend continued there would definitely be some concern of smaller ISP elimination. They could disintegrate because the larger media companies have the money to make that happen, he said.

Clark added large ISPs may hinder the average user's internet experience. While they tend to guarantee unlimited access as one of their attractive benefits, the number of subscribers they are capable of supporting is often limited. Client frustrations lead to new subscriptions to local ISPs.

"Even though the media conglomerates may be attempting to dominate the internet, there are enough people out there to do something about it," Clark said.

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Copyright The Gazette 2000