This week, Billboard Magazine ran a Commentary by FMC Executive Director Ann Chaitovitz on the importance of Net Neutrality to the music community. We’re pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the issue in such a well-read publication.
Unfortunately, the published version contained a paragraph that Ann did not write. So we’re presenting the piece as intended, right here on this very blog.
A Wide Net By Ann Chaitovitz
In a concert last summer that was netcast by AT&T, Pearl Jam performed a section of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” during an extended jam on their own song, “Daughter.” When singer Eddie Vedder gave the lyrics a political twist and sang, “George Bush leave this world alone / George Bush find yourself another home,” AT&T cut the sound, unbeknownst to the band and attendees. This was not just censorship but a warning beacon of what will happen in a world without net neutrality. If network operators control all the content that passes through their pipes, any of us could be silenced on the whims of a few powerful corporations.
Net Neutrality first became an issue in 2005, stemming from the Supreme Court’s Brand X decision, which ruled that the FCC was allowed to reclassify the internet as an information service, as opposed to a telecommunications service. That left open just what type of oversight the FCC would apply. Cable companies and network operators saw this as an opportunity to earn new revenue and to keep competing services from using their infrastructure.
Net neutrality is the principle that protects the open Internet. It means that everyone can access the lawful content of their choice. It also gives musicians the chance to reach their fans directly, without interference from gatekeepers and middlemen. This could change if companies like AT&T and Verizon have their way and decide who and what we listen to. Many artists could lose an important connection to their fans, while listeners might find their access to their favorite acts severely compromised.
Recently, people have confused net neutrality with the separate and distinct issue of copyright enforcement. Net neutrality does not prevent network operators from using tools to prevent piracy. Nothing prevents network operators from blocking access to infringing content. Net neutrality only preserves the public’s access to lawful content, applications and online services, which gives network operators latitude to combat illegal filesharing.
Net neutrality also permits reasonable network management. For example, network operators could prioritize voice services over streaming services over downloading services in order to ensure the proper functioning of the network. What they would not be permitted to do, however, is to prioritize their own voice service over that of their competitors.
The current structure of the web lets the biggest companies and the smallest bedroom recording artist exist on an equal technological playing field. But the big telecom and cable companies want to charge content providers a fee for the faster delivery of their sites.
Imagine logging on to your favorite band‘s website, only to have it take forever to load on your computer because they couldn’t to afford (or didn’t want) to pay a toll. Or maybe you‘re simply redirected to that network operator’s own music store, or to iTunes or Amazon — companies that can afford to cut deals with the network operators — where the artist has to share the revenue and takes home less. Services that pay the network operators would likely subtract their increased costs from the content provider’s share of the revenue or pass the cost on to the consumer, which would present a new hurdle on the road to a legitimate digital music economy. Today’s bands, big or small, deserve the right to do business on their terms, and fans deserve to make their own choices of where and how to access legitimate content. That’s why net neutrality is so important.
We can’t just hand the Internet over to a few big corporations, because they often only have their own interests at heart. Recently, Comcast blocked access to the legal, licensed audiovisual delivery service called Vuze — which competes with the company’s own AV offerings — simply because Vuze utilizes peer-to-peer technology to distribute its licensed content. Net neutrality would prohibit network operators from interfering with the transmission of lawful content and permit the growth of new business models.
Content creators, producers and advocates who are concerned about piracy but also understand the consequences of letting a few corporations control distribution — Future of Music Coalition, the Center for Creative Voices in Media, the Independent Film and Television Alliance and the American Association of Independent Music — support net neutrality because they know what’s at stake. You can’t safeguard artists by blocking or limiting their ability to participate in an open marketplace.
Musicians and labels are making their voices heard through Future of Music Coalition’s Rock the Net campaign, which now boasts more than 800 members, including Pearl Jam, R.E.M. and Kronos Quartet. A compilation CD, featuring Aimee Mann, Wilco, They Might Be Giants, Bright Eyes, the Wrens, Portistatic and more, will be released in July. We applaud the commitment of these talented artists to such an important cause.
We can’t allow bottlenecks to determine the flow of creativity. Participating in a legitimate digital marketplace is the right of all citizens, including musicians. It’s a right that needs to be preserved.