The last decade has seen an independent music revolution powered by the Internet. A developing band like OK Go rockets to national attention on the strength of a clever YouTube video. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sells thousands of records based on blog buzz, and Sufjan Stevens sells out concert halls solely on the basis of Internet play. Fans have never had such a dizzying array of music choices before, and artists have never had an easier time reaching receptive audiences.
Two words make this all possible: net neutrality. Plainly, net neutrality is the principle that protects the open Internet. It means that everyone has equal online access, and can experience the lawful content of their choice. It also lets musicians reach their fans directly, without interference from gatekeepers and middlemen.
But recent decisions are threatening the web we know and love. Big telecom and cable companies like AT&T and Comcast 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 because they couldn’t to afford to (or didn’t want to) pay a toll. Or maybe you’re simply redirected to to a site not of your own choosing, where the artist only gets a fraction of the revenue from your purchase.
If we lose net neutrality, musicians could lose a connection to their fans, and listeners could find it harder to connect with their favorite artists.
Network neutrality is a tricky term since both sides in the debate have claimed it. But it’s easy to take a step back and see the type of common sense principles that should guide access to the Internet. Here is the type of net neutrality that the Future of Music Coalition advocates:
- Provide equal access to all web sites and online services. ISPs should not use their “pipes” to give preferential treatment to those that are willing to pay for it. Likewise, one type of content should not arrive faster than another. An email with a text attachment should not be prioritized over one with an MP3 attachment.
- Encourage creative, technological and economic innovation. Unequal access to the web could stunt this growth and hurt business competition. Competition — not choices by the big ISPs — should determine what succeeds or fails on the Internet.
- Foster democratic participation for all citizens: an individual should be able to reach any web site regardless of its origin. An ISP should not block your access to a competitor’s web site or block access to certain sites for political reasons.
High speed Internet service shouldn’t be something available only to those in the higher income or more densely populated areas. Like the electric company, an ISP has a responsibility to ensure all citizens have access to high-quality Internet service through widespread broadband deployment. To require anything less is to effectively create a second class of citizens that are unable to learn about and participate in the digital economy that has revolutionized the world in the last ten years.