On Friday, January 2, news broke that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be voting on its long awaited Net Neutrality rules in February. The regular FCC meeting in February is scheduled for February 26. As Brian Fung of the Washington Post writes:
President Obama’s top telecom regulator, Tom Wheeler, told fellow FCC commissioners before the Christmas holiday that he intends to circulate a draft proposal internally next month with an eye toward approving the measure weeks later, said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency’s deliberations are ongoing. The rules are meant to keep broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast from speeding up or slowing down some Web sites compared to others.
You’ll remember that it was one year ago this month that a federal appeals court threw out the existing Open Internet Order in response to a lawsuit from Verizon, thus launching the process that generated the most comments of any FCC filing in history—including those from countless artists, musicians and arts and culture organizations.
For musicians who care about preventing a pay-to-play internet where content from the biggest commercial players gets prioritized before music and videos from independent artists and labels, this announcement of a more concrete timeline could be very welcome news indeed. But ultimately, it comes down to what exactly is being voted on. We’d be thrilled to see a vote for strong Title II protections that ensure a level playing field for independent musicians and other creators. But an ill-advised vote on weak rules could mean an approach that fails in court, or relegates all but the wealthiest companies to the “slow lane.” So we’ll be listening closely in the coming weeks for the details of the proposed rules.
In the meantime, as we wait for those details, here’s a couple of recommended #longreads with some background on the issue. First, here’s our recent op-ed for Pitchfork, where we lay out the case for Title II from a music fan’s perspective:
Bands like Fugazi once warned of the influence of an industry principally controlled by “Five Corporations,” of a dystopian mass society where fewer and fewer voices speak to an ever larger and more passive audience. Now we’re down to just three major labels, and despite payola laws, those three companies keep a firm grip on what gets played on commercial radio.
To reach audiences, independents have had to focus on alternative infrastructure that allows gatekeepers to be bypassed, like independent record shops, college radio, and especially the Internet. The online sphere hasn’t turned out to be a panacea—it’s disrupted traditional revenue streams and is prone to the same corporatization as legacy media; but nonetheless, it’s offered fans access to and information about a greater diversity of music than ever before. What makes this possible is Net Neutrality, the principle that all traffic should be treated equally, regardless of who made it; meaning your favorite cassette label’s website, music videos, or other data can flow just as effectively as OneRepublic’s. (read the full article)
Second, here’s a take on the issue from #Blacklivesmatter co-founder Patrice Cullors, who points out that if your views are missing from mainstream media, Net Neutrality is your best recourse:
“The Internet is the most democratic communication platform in history, largely because we’ve had network neutrality rules that make sure all web traffic is treated equally, and no voices are discriminated against. Because of network neutrality rules, activists can turn to the Internet to bypass the discrimination of mainstream cable, broadcast and print outlets as we organize for change. It is because of net neutrality rules that the Internet is the only communication channel left where Black voices can speak and be heard, produce and consume, on our own terms.”
Chairman Wheeler and the other commissioners have a crucial opportunity to stand up for free expression and equality online. iI and when they do the right thing, they should know that musicians and independent labels are willing and able to back them up!