Back in early 1990s, you couldn’t go anywhere without stumbling across an AOL “Internet starter disc.” Whether on an airplane seat, a high school cafeteria tray or tucked inside a pizza box, AOL’s blitz marketing campaign was pretty much unavoidable. As we recall, each individual disc had a big number stamped on it, indicating the amount of hours of free Internet access you had before you had to pay for a subscription (700 hours, 1000 hours, 1025 hours, you get the picture). Back then, the fact that AOL was offering Internet access in terms of hours wasn’t weird. In fact, charging by the hour was the norm. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s, when this all changed. AOL introduced its unlimited plan (along with the Buddy list) and the rest is media history.
Paying for every hour you spend online is a form of usage-based pricing—a model where price is determined by how much of the service you consume. Usage-based pricing is a model that is common in many other industries. For example, when you get on an airplane, you have the option of paying for a first-class ticket in order to get bigger chairs, and more privacy. On the DC Metro, you pay according to the distance you travel.
For the last couple of decades, we’ve gotten used to paying one price for an unlimited number of hours online. Many of us leave our email open all day, watch YouTube videos of our favorite bands for hours, and download albums whenever we feel like it. And when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it came with an unlimited data plan, upholding the decade-long user expectation of being able to go where you want online without worrying about how much each website visit would cost.
But the days of unlimited data plans may be numbered. Both wireless and wireline providers are now experimenting with usage-based pricing in the form of data caps—limits on the amount of data you can upload or download per month. Most ISPs have instituted some form of hard or soft caps.
Part one of a series by FMC Policy Fellow Rachel Allen
In the past few years, streaming music and video have changed the way artists connect with fans. Popular music services such as Spotify and Pandora, high-quality video sites like Vevo, and a number of other digital platforms and applications have been important tools for fans to discover music and for artists to get paid for their work (even if the business models aren’t uniformly agreed upon). Recent studies have found that applications for music comprise the fastest growing activity among mobile phone users. Moreover, artists like Jay Z and Lady Gaga, as well as smaller acts such as Dan Deacon, are using mobile applications to create new interactive music experiences (but as was the case with Jay Z, not all of these experiments are embraced).
Why do we bring this up now? Well, streaming music and video services would not be possible without access to high-speed broadband. However, as the music and video industries go mobile, the price and quality of connections has become more and more uncertain.
This series will explore how the evolution of the Internet impacts musicians and other creators—whether the connection is on a desktop, a laptop or a mobile device. We’ll explore the ins and outs of how artists connect, and why accessible technology platforms are essential to today’s creative entrepreneurs.
Readers of this blog are probably familiar with the concept of “net neutrality” and why it matters to musicians. But let us remind you anyway.
All of the amazing internet tools that musicians and music entrepreneurs use every day are a result of the open internet, which gives anyone a license to innovate. Without basic protections to preserve this dynamic, the internet we know and love could become extinct. We’ve seen that movie before: just look at commercial broadcast radio to see what happens when just a few powerful companies control access to audiences and what content is even available. read more
The internet is at risk today as the Senate debates a resolution that would strip the FCC of its rulemaking authority to preserve its openness. S.J. Res. 6, similar to a House measure passed in April, needs only a simple majority to pass. The vote, expected Thursday, November 11, is likely to be very close. read more
Since its inception, the internet has represented a powerful tool for the exchange of information and ideas. In recent years, it has also contributed greatly to the emergence of novel platforms for the dissemination of creative content. It is as members of the arts community who have come to depend on these structures that we write to you today.
Creators, in particular, depend on open internet structures to engage in a variety of ways, including direct interaction with audiences, fans and patrons, as well as collaboration with other artists. From musicians to filmmakers to writers to independent labels to arts and service organizations, today’s creative community depends on the internet to conduct business and contribute to the rich tapestry that is American culture.
Today’s creators are taking advantage of technologies fostered by the internet to deliver a diverse array of content to consumers, while creating efficient new ways to “do for ourselves” in terms of infrastructure. The access and innovation inspired by the web helps us meet the challenges of the 21st century as we contribute to local economies and help America compete globally.
It hasn’t always been so. Traditionally, the media landscape relied heavily on hierarchical chains of ownership and distribution, controlled by powerful gatekeepers such as large TV and movie studios, commercial radio conglomerates, major labels and so forth.
It would be tremendously disadvantageous to creative entrepreneurship if the internet were to become an environment in which innovation and creativity face tremendous barriers to entry due to business arrangements between a select few industry players.
This is why we support clear, enforceable and transparent rules to ensure that competition and free expression can continue to flourish online. Although many of us feel strongly that the recent FCC Order does not go far enough in its protections (particularly with regard to mobile broadband access), we recognize the importance of having a process in place by which concerns can be addressed and transparency pursued.
We believe that Congress has a role to play in establishing guidelines that preserve a competitive, accessible internet where free expression and entrepreneurship can continue to flourish. We also believe that stripping the FCC’s ability to enforce these core principles as proposed in S.J. Res. 6 runs counter the values shared by members on both sides of the aisle, as well as prior and current FCC leadership. Therefore, we strongly urge against a broad repudiation of the Commission’s Order.
Future of Music Coalition
National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture
Future of Music Coalition (FMC), a national non-profit research, education and advocacy organization for musicians, strongly opposes a resolution set for a vote in the House of Representatives that would eliminate the FCC’s ability to preserve the internet as an open marketplace for creativity and commerce. read more
On March 9, 2011, Billboard chart-topping band the Decemberists sent a letter to Oregon members of Congress in support of public radio and open internet access. The Portland, Oregon band has sold more than 1.25 million records worldwide, in part due to their ability to reach fans via the internet and non-commercial radio. The text of the letter is below; a PDF copy can be downloaded here.
Dear members of the Oregon Congressional delegation: read more
On March 9, 2011, Billboard chart-topping band the Decemberists sent a letter to Oregon members of Congress in support of public radio and open internet access. The Portland, Oregon band has sold more than 1.25 million records worldwide, in part due to their ability to reach fans via the internet and non-commercial radio.
Dear members of the Oregon Congressional delegation:
We are writing to you as members of the Decemberists, and also as proud citizens of Oregon. We wanted to inform you, as representatives for our state, about a couple of issues of utmost importance to a segment of your constituency: musicians and other contributors to Oregon’s creative economy. In order to continue doing what we do, our community requires access to the internet and a supportive broadcast media. We are concerned with recent Congressional activity around these crucial platforms, and urge you to consider the impact of your decisions on the creative sector.
A refresher: Back in December 2010, the FCC voted to adopt its Open Internet Order, which takes important steps towards keeping the internet accessible to everyone, including musicians. The Order set forth basic rules to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from picking winners and losers online and interfering with access to legal content, sites and services. read more
Late Thursday, House Republicans voted to bar the FCC from imposing net neutrality guidelines on broadband providers. As part of an amendment attached to a larger spending bill, the FCC would be prohibited from using federal funds to force ISPs to comply with various access requirements.
This is a highly contentious issue, and ISPs have serious legal challenges against these rules. But groups like the Future of Music Coalition and A2IM are squarely in favor of net neutrality regulations.
And, so are many artists. The following is a letter to Congressional leaders mailed this week by R.E.M., Rebecca Gates, Kronos Quartet, Jill Sobule, Erin McKeown, Thao Nguyen, Alex Shapiro and Charles Bissell. read more