Greetings, members of the Commission and fellow broadband workshop participants. It’s an honor to appear here today to share my views on the importance of competitive, quality broadband to creators and purveyors of American art and culture.
My name is Alex Shapiro, and I’m a composer. My use of the internet has significantly shaped the evolution of my career, and has allowed me to reach audiences around the world, obtain commissions, and sell recordings and scores - all from a fairly isolated outpost on a bridge-less island in Washington State.
The transformation of communication technologies has been enormously empowering to many artists and small business people like myself. No longer are gatekeepers like record labels, publishing companies, commercial radio, and big box retail outlets solely responsible for how music and other forms of art are accessed and distributed. In today’s technology-enabled world, the artists themselves are free to connect with audiences, patrons and peers from across the globe, in unprecedented ways.
Thanks directly to my presence on social networking sites, blogs, and lots of websites, I do business every week in several continents at once. From India, Australia, Germany and Bulgaria, to a commission from a U.S. Army concert wind band in Virginia, clients hear excepts of my music on the internet and contact me out of the blue. One didn’t formerly expect to see Commanders and Majors trolling for composers on MySpace, but apparently, times have changed! All of this online interaction presents an amazing opportunity for creators. That is, provided they have sufficient access.
It’s been said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. But many Americans aren’t able to “show up” at all, due to a lack of quality, competitive broadband in their communities. On my own street on San Juan Island, I can’t even get cable TV, and satellite isn’t an option because of all the tall trees. I feel lucky to have internet access at all. What we could use is higher speeds and more stable connectivity. Many who live in rural areas simply aren’t able to use the internet in the way that it’s meant to be used. This is a problem not just for content creators, but for anyone who depends on the web as a significant means by which to do business. No one should be prevented from using what I deem to be the most significant communication technology since the printing press.
It’s also a problem for consumers. You can’t run a successful digital storefront if customers can’t get to your shop. Even in more urban areas, people often have no real marketplace choice for broadband providers. And what’s available is too often overpriced and sub-par, particularly compared to international standards. In addition to affordability and access, speed is crucial to making the online experience more successful. The nature of music and video files is that they require a lot of bandwidth in order to smoothly stream or download. It’s not a stretch to say that America’s global competitiveness is tied to the quality of our broadband service.
We must expand broadband connectivity so more creators and consumers of culture outside of cities can participate in this exchange of creativity and capital. There are economic benefits to living in rural areas: they are almost always less expensive than cities. I lived in Los Angeles for 24 years before moving to Friday Harbor, and I can tell you that it now costs me half as much to live each month. For many artists, this is a significant bonus and can help to make them even more self-sufficient.
The internet is ground zero for innovation and entrepreneurship. Currently, an artist like myself is able to compete on a more or less equal technological playing field with the biggest content providers on the planet. That’s just amazing! This is incredibly important for those of us working in genres like contemporary concert music, classical music, jazz, bluegrass or other cultural forms that are considered outside of the popular mainstream, both in style, and, too often, in income generation. In our highly consolidated, corporate media environment, we constantly hear about broadcast media like terrestrial radio dropping programming. Classical radio stations are becoming more and more scarce, even in the biggest cities. In the absence of radio exposure, artists like myself depend on the internet to reach audiences and connect with others who help to promote American art and culture.
Many industries that existed before the internet came along, are now facing dramatic changes to long-standing business models. I respect and understand the concerns of those in the mainstream content community about monetization and the protection of intellectual property. As the owner of many copyrights, I share their concerns. Yet digital networks also present incredible opportunity.
Are there as yet unsolved questions about how to implement sustainable structures for compensation? Absolutely. We’re dealing with two separate issues: the achievement of a powerful tool: the internet, and the need to figure out ways for creators and copyright owners to be paid, regardless of the delivery format for their content. But we can’t turn our backs on potentially rewarding innovations to protect yesterday’s business models, especially when even the paying customers are migrating to online platforms. We should instead be thinking about how to build even more monetizable structures for lawful acquisition - whether it’s via cloud-based access or value-added downloads. From mobile to desktop, access is crucial to the establishment of a legitimate digital music marketplace where listeners can find what they want, and creators are compensated.
I strongly believe that other creators should have the same opportunity as I have had to touch people around the world with music, or with whatever expressive medium they prefer. Even for those with access to the internet, it’s crucial to make improvements to the speed and affordability of the service. I’m very glad to know that the FCC is taking steps to determine how best to achieve competition and quality in the broadband marketplace. As one creator who is dependent on this technology, I thank you.