The Federal Communications Commission will meet Thursday in the midst of an ongoing debate over net neutrality regulations that have pitted major telecoms, which want control of the flow of information across their broadband networks, against small businesses, bloggers, political actors and other Internet users who are resisting the telecommunication takeover attempt.
On Wednesday, a group of popular musicians entered the fray, joining with MoveOn.org to press the FCC to write regulations that will prevent telecoms from asserting control over the flow of information. Jackson Browne, R.E.M. the Roots, Rosanne Cash, OK Go, Moby and Bonnie Raitt are among the artists to sign the letter. They will be encouraging their fans to contact the FCC and push the commission to write rules preserving an open Internet. Telecoms are pushing the FCC to do nothing and let Congress act instead, while major corporations such as Verizon and Google strike bilateral deals that carve up the Internet.
But Congress has already acted. In 1996, the Telecommunications Act updated the original 1934 Communications Act, New Deal legislation that prevented monopolies from dominating the means of communication. In 2002, under pressure from the cable and phone industry, the Bush administration's FCC classified broadband as an "information service" rather than as a "telecommunications service." It is, quite plainly, a telecommunications service, but the FCC deemed it otherwise for the sole purpose of avoiding the legislative requirement that neutrality rules be written to protect the Internet from control by major corporations.
By 2005, the phone and cable companies had begun publicly discussing their plans to subvert net neutrality. "Why should [companies] be allowed to use my pipes?" Southwestern Bell CEO Ed Whitacre told BusinessWeek. "The Internet can't be free in that sense ... for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!"
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC could not regulate broadband as an "information service." It had already ruled in 2005 that the FCC could classify broadband as a "telecommunications service." So, following the 2010 court ruling, the FCC announced plans to reclassify broadband as what it actually is.
That's when the telecom lobbying went into high gear. The GOP launched an attack arguing that Obama was attempting to take state control of the Internet, as if regulating broadband the way that phone lines are regulated amounted to nationalization. The telecom lobbying effort soon came to focus around an effort to pressure FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski not to reclassify broadband, but to leave it unregulated until Congress acts.
The collaboration between MoveOn and the artists is an effort to persuade Genachowski to act.
The full letter:
Dear FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski:
The Internet has facilitated an explosion of creativity and commerce, offering unprecedented opportunities to musicians and music entrepreneurs. Due to the open structures of the Internet, musicians and other creators and innovators can compete on an equal technological playing field with the biggest companies. The result is a blossoming and legitimate marketplace that compensates creators while rewarding fans with access to an incredible array of music.
None of this could have happened without Net Neutrality -- the principle that protects the open Internet. That's why we support efforts to preserve Net Neutrality for the benefit of innovation and free expression -- and urge the FCC to act immediately to ensure that the Internet is kept free and open.
As artists, we are encouraged that the Commission recognizes the importance of net neutrality. We encourage you to apply its core principles to any and all broadband points of access, including the wireless space. We also encourage you to consider the perspectives of musicians, who depend on an open Internet to compete in a crucial marketplace and express ourselves creatively.
We will continue to support the Commission on the road to achieving clear and enforceable rules of the road for the Internet for the benefit of creators, innovators, entrepreneurs and the public. However, we also feel that the time to act is now, to avoid prolonged uncertainty for all stakeholders, including musicians and music entrepreneurs. The future of the Internet depends on decisions made today, as does the future of music. We believe that Net Neutrality is the best and only way to ensure that both futures remain bright.
Writers Guild of America, East