Good News From Congress on Net Neutrality, Arts Funding

As the calendar year draws to a close, we have some welcome news coming from atop the Hill. It looks as if we’ll avoid another squabble-induced government shutdown, because negotiators in the house have managed to bring forward an omnibus appropriations bill.  What’s more, the bill contains some significant new year good news for musicians and music fans. Happy holidays to us all! 

For wonks, full language of the 2,000-plus-word bill can be found here. For the rest of us, some highlights are below.

To begin with, Net Neutrality in the U.S. is safe again (but, as usual, just for now). A proposed part of the must-pass spending bill would have cut the legs off of the FCC’s February victory over Big Telecom. Fortunately, despite hard lobbying by companies like Verizon and Comcast, provisions to keep the FCC from enforcing its Open Internet Order didn’t make it into the bill. But this is certainly not the last well hear from these communication conglomorates, who wish to legalize tiered levels of internet access that would do great damage to a free and open internet and make it harder for independent musicians to have access to a level playing field and express themselves online. (It’s also worth noting that our Open Internet allies have raised concerns about some cybersecurity provisions in the bill).

In other welcome news, The National Endowment for the Arts was gifted a line-item budget increase, bringing their total coffer to $148 millionFrom 2012-2015, the NEA has had an approximately $146 million budget. This is a far cry from the halcyon early 1990’s, when it was as high as $176 million. However, it was slashed to under $100 million near the turn of the century, and this $2 million increase is encouraging.

As the NEA nears its 50th anniversary, arts advocates had argued for a $155 million budget for the 2016 fiscal year. It reaches approximately 38 million people a year (and counting) with its sponsored programs. Remember, art isn’t just something people with expendable money go to experience in their free time. America is arguably the cultural center of the world, making up a hefty 4.32% of our GDP. Almost a million people are employed because of arts — from artists and musicians themselves, to the circles of infrastructure around them (us included!). Arts bring in almost $200 billion in tourism revenue annually, connecting us to the rest of the globe. Investing in organizations like the NEA can only benefit America, at every level.

The omnibus also included a small boost for arts education.  Add this to the recent good news about the the demise of No Child Left Behind earlier this month.  That law’s successor — the Every Student Succeeds Act — has the potential to bring arts education to the forefront. By reducing the pressures of standardized testing and increasing the importance of a ‘well-rounded education’ for America’s children, ESSA is giving arts education its long-overdue day. Now, arts education programs and their teachers are eligible for much-needed federal funding. Additionally, ESSA aims to encourage integrating art into STEM focuses, focuses that would not exist without curiosity and creativity that art stimulates.

Update Friday 12/18/15   The omnibus bill has passed!  Happy holidays!

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