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Consumers, campaigners and champions of free speech everywhere won a huge victory last week when United States regulators voted in favor of net neutrality rules, reclassifying broadband internet in the U.S. as a "common carriage" service open to all customers.

Practically speaking, that means internet providers cannot impose a "slow lane" or a toll gate on users based on the information or sources they are trying to reach. As law professor Tim Wu, who first coined the term "net neutrality," put it, the rule "… makes it very clear to the phone and cable companies: You can’t block anything. You know, you might not like a website that says Verizon’s too expensive; you can’t block that. … you can't go around and say, 'Hey, if you don’t want to be slowed down, you need to pay us more money' … like kind of a protection scheme."

files_in_gyumri_300.jpgAn aspiring government watchdog in Armenia faces an uphill battle. Weak safeguards against corruption and a government-dominated media have led to widespread distrust of elected officials and most news outlets. A recent Open Society Foundations report cites the country for "lack of independence of regulatory institutions, non-transparent media ownership," and a slow-developing media sector.

Levon Barseghyan, activist and founder of the Journalists Club Asparez, says mainstream media has so little credibility that Armenians watch state TV using "a vice versa approach."

Asparez (or "Arena") hosts one of the country's top 10 news web sites, Asparez.am. To foster public knowledge and government accountability, they are also tracking public funding to schools and regional governments, then posting and charting the results online at PublicData.am.

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