On February 3, 2013, Democratic leaders in the US House of Representatives and Senate introduced companion bills to preserve a level online playing field. The move follows a recent court ruling that threw out the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Open Internet Order establishing basic rules of the road for Internet Service Providers (ISPs). These rules are meant to prevent the very few companies that provide Internet service from blocking or discriminating against lawful content based on business or other preferences.
Musicians and other creators care about the issue of net neutrality because we know that our ability to reach fans depends on an internet that doesn’t discriminate based on how deep our pockets are. In order to keep the internet open to creativity and entrepreneurship, the Commission issued rules that were based on principles put forward by Democratic and Republican leadership going back a decade. An appeals court in Washington, DC decided that the FCC’s presumed authority to do so wasn’t justified, so now we’re in a bit of a holding pattern.
And that’s where Congress can step in. After all, they have the ability—and some would say the mandate—to ensure the most important communications platform in history remains open and accessible to all. (For more detail on the recent court ruling check out this blog post; our Rock the Net capmpaign has the skinny on why all this matters to musicians and creative entrepreneurs.)
Just a few days ago, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CT) introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act (H.R. 3982). A Senate version was brought forward by Sen. Ed Markey with co-sponsors including Al Franken (D-MN), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-AZ). Both pieces of legislation would restore the rules until the FCC solidifies its position regarding authority.
“The Internet is an engine of economic growth because it has always been an open platform for competition and innovation,” said Rep. Waxman, Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online. The FCC can and must quickly exercise the authorities the D.C. Circuit recognized to reinstate the Open Internet rules. Our bill makes clear that consumers and innovators will be protected in the interim.”
Both bills face hurdles, the House version in particular. You may recall that when the FCC originally issued its Order, some in Congress sought to immediately repeal the protections. This is why artists like My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists, R.E.M., Rebecca Gates, Kronos Quartet, Jill Sobule, Erin McKeown, Thao Nguyen, Alex Shapiro, Charles Bissell of the Wrens and more wrote letters to Congress describing why a level online playing field is crucial to their lives and careers.
As this issue comes back into play, you can expect that the thousands of musicians and independent labels already on record will make some beautiful noise. If you believe in an internet where a great song, idea or innovation can be heard and discovered, you should add your voice to the growing chorus.