On Wednesday, January 7, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler made news by hinting that upcoming net neutrality rules would be stronger (and more legally grounded) than previous proposals.
Why is this significant? Well, a handful of months ago, it looked like the FCC was set to adopt rules that would have allowed paid prioritization of certain Internet content—namely, that from the biggest companies. This would be devastating for smaller creators and independent labels who depend on a level online playing field to get their music and message out to the world.
This inspired a massive public response in the form of some 4 million comments to the FCC’s official docket on the matter—the vast majority in favor of strong rules prohibiting ISPs from creating a “pay-to-play” Internet. Then, President Obama made an important statement supporting reclassification of broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
Yesterday, at the Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES) in Las Vegas, Chairman Wheeler signaled that the rules the FCC will bring to a vote vote on February 26 are in keeping with what millions of Americans of every political stripe have demanded: a non-discriminatory Internet that lets smaller entrepreneurs compete alongside the biggest companies. This is welcome news for musicians and independent labels who can’t afford to have their lawful content, sites and services discriminated against based on the business preferences of a giant ISP like Comcast.
“We’re gonna have rules that say—we’re going to propose rules that say, ‘no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization,’” Wheeler told Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President Gary Shapiro in an on-stage interview. It gets better:
“The issue here is how do we make sure that consumers and innovators have open access to networks. That led us to a more robust investigation of the well-established concept of just and reasonable, which is a Title II concept. And as I said, Title II has always been something that was on the table. So last summer we began investigating various approaches using Title II as a way to get to just and reasonable because it has the best protections.”
There’s been a ton of misinformation spread by the big ISPs like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T about what Title II classification would mean for consumer pricing and investment in further building out the network. Well, as it turns out, the FCC will “forbear” from applying every provision in Title II, thereby avoiding any burdensome regulations. Furthermore, Congress recently reauthorized a bill prohibiting local and state taxes for Internet sales and services. As Free Press explains:
The Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA), reauthorized through October 2015, bans states from imposing taxes on Internet access no matter how the FCC classifies it.
This extension erases any concern that reclassifying Internet-access services under Title II of the Communications Act could lead to a new tax burden on consumers. Industry-backed economists from the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) had claimed reclassification could lead to as much as $15 billion in new taxes — a claim repeated in the press and in cable-industry advertising that targets Net Neutrality rules. The renewal of this legislation reaffirms that there is no threat of new taxes from Title II.
And there’s also been clear evidence that ISPs aren’t at all concerned that Title II reclassification will harm investment. In fact, that’s exactly what Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable have said in recent shareholder meetings.
FMC is pleased that the perspectives of thousands of musicians and independent labels going back to 2007 have been taken into account. Of course, we’ll have to see what the actual rules are before we break out the bubbly, but we do want to thank Chairman Wheeler for moving in a direction that is the most likely to allow creative expression and entrepreneurship to thrive on the Internet.
But the fight is far from over. There’s a strong likelihood that the debate will move to Congress following the FCC’s rulemaking. If and when it does, FMC will be there with musicians, composers, independent labels and others in the music community who depend on access and innovation online.