I don’t do this often, but I’m gonna take a minute to explain an issue that I work on at my real job. Why? Because it’s one of the most important policy debates of our time, and it doesn’t get much coverage in the media.
I’m talking about net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the principle that protects the open internet. It’s also the web as we know it. Without open internet platforms, there wouldn’t have been a Google or eBay. If we lose net neutrality, we might never see the next great innovation.
Picture this: you have a favorite local pizza parlor. It’s Friday night, and you want a pie delivered. You call your local joint — let’s call it Joe’s Pizza — only to have an operator come on and say, “please hold while we prioritize calls for Domino’s.” That doesn’t happen on the phone, why should it happen online?
The web was built on open technological structures that don’t favor one type of data over another. The ISPs hate that. They want to charge content providers (basically anyone who puts stuff on the internet) a higher fee for the faster delivery of their sites and services. If you couldn’t afford to — or didn’t want to — pay a toll, you’d get stuck on the slow lane while the big dogs cruise along at light speed.
I care about this because I’m a content producer myself. As a musician and writer, I depend on some basic assurances that my stuff isn’t disfavored because Black Eyed Peas‘ reps cut a direct deal with the devil Comcast.
Losing net neutrality would be devastating to small businesses who depend on the open internet to compete alongside the biggest companies. Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my internet service provider to tell me where I go, what I say and whether I’m even allowed to say it (and to whom). They’ve done this before, you know — just ask Pearl Jam.
The internet is the most revolutionary communications platform since the printing press. Why? Because its open structures allow anyone to have a voice. Now, I may not like a majority of what they’re saying, but that doesn’t change the fact that the internet is too important to let a handful of powerful telecommunications and cable companies mess with.
The April 6 decision at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out the FCC’s presumed legal authority for regulating the internet. This is a huge blow to the Commission, particularly as they work to establish basic rules that would preserve its essential characteristics of openness. The ruling also affects huge portions of the National Broadband Plan, which contains proposals for getting affordable high-speed internet service to more Americans. Because of this decision, both efforts are currently in limbo.
My organization, Future of Music Coalition, has been working for a decade to make sure that musicians can compete online right alongside the biggest companies. We’ve always understood that it would be a huge mistake to place bottlenecks and gatekeepers — basically everything that was wrong with the original music industry — on the internet. We’ve advocated for net neutrality because it’s crucial to artists’ ability to reach fans on their own terms.
When we first started talking about net neutrality, there weren’t many examples of legitimate, music-related sites and services to point to. Now, there are new ones every day. We want this legitimate digital music marketplace to grow, and we want all artists to be able to participate. Net neutrality means innovation can keep happening and musicians can keep making connections with fans without having to ask permission first.
And that’s why I’m all into it.
Well, there’s a growing call for the Commission to reclassify broadband internet under a different section of the Telecommunications Act so it can have more solid legal footing to do its work. (My wife’s org is doing some heavy lifting on that front.) Probably the most cogent (and comprehensible) explanation of where we go from here comes from University of Michigan law professor Susan Crawford. Her recent New York Times Op-Ed is pretty much required reading.
Now before you go thinking that I’m all snuggly-wuggly with the FCC, may I remind you that my peeps and I have given them a lot of crap over their arbitrary broadcast indecency policies, their handling of media ownership rules and payola. But as the Federal Fucking Communications Commission, it seems reasonable that they should have some say over the most significant communications tool in human history. Or what are they even there for?
This stuff is a huge reason why I’ve been so busy lately. But it’s a good kind of busy. Because this shit is important.