I have had an extraordinarily busy week. Rock stars, high-level meetings, time spent with superstar media reformers from around the country and a solid victory on the policy front. Exhausted, for sure. Pretty satisfied, though.
Hey, did’ja hear we saved the internet?
Well, we didn’t do it all by ourselves, but we certainly had a role to play. And by we, I mean folks from a variety of public interest, consumer advocate, media reform and social justice groups who stood up and said clearly, loudly and often that the internet must remain open and accessible to all users.
‘Cause it was touch-and-go there for a minute.
You may recall a couple of earlier posts where I laid out what’s at stake if there aren’t clear, enforceable rules of the road for the internet. The government body that can ensure that you and I continue to have a voice online is the FCC. Thankfully, they’re up for the task, and have drafted proposed rules to preserve the open structures of the internet for everyone. The cable and telecoms are attempting what amounts to a land grab online. Do you want your internet to look like your cable TV package? I sure as hell don’t.
My organization looks at this stuff from the musician’s perspective. The old version of the industry was built on a system of bottlenecks and gatekeepers that prevented the vast majority of creators from competing in an open marketplace due to the scarcity of physical product and broadcast spectrum, the high cost of distribution and many other factors. By contrast, the internet lets artists make crucial connections with their fans on their own terms. If you control your own music like our pals OK Go, you can do amazing things without having to ask permission.
We want to preserve this essential dynamic. The telecom and cable companies must not become the new gatekeepers, or we’ll be at a significant expressive and economic loss.
We also want to leave room for innovation so that more legal, licensed services can be established and we get a legitimate digital music marketplace where musicians are compensated and fans can access the lawful music they want without undue restrictions. The open structure of the internet is the oxygen of this ecosystem.
A court decision back in early April put the FCC’s ability to regulate the internet in question. Remember, this is hands-off regulation that’s meant to keep the internet as it is — a place where nobody is gonna silence your speech or squash your good idea because it happens to compete with a similar service offered by Comcast or AT&T. What happens if these companies become the arbiters of expression? One shudders to think.
Anyway, there was some real consternation about this particular court decision, which overturned an order that the FCC issued against Comcast that told ’em to stop messing with certain kinds of web traffic. It was basically a slap on the wrist, but Comcast fought the order and won in the DC District Circuit Court of Appeals. The judges didn’t say that the FCC shouldn’t or couldn’t regulate broadband, but rather that practically all of the legal theories and assumptions they used to do so amounted to a hill of beans. Or bits, as it were.
I’m not gonna get into the specifics of the decision and its legal presuppositions here, but get at me in the comments and I’ll try to explain it more.
The long and short of it is this: the Commission, currently led by Julius Genachowski, had a tough decision to make. They could “reclassify” broadband under a different section of the Telecommunications Act, but doing so would draw the ire of the incredibly powerful telecom and cable industries.
I’m pleased to say that the Chairman sided with the consumers here and has found what looks like a legally sound way to move forward with rules to preserve the open internet. Equally important, the FCC can now get back to work on the proposals outlined in the National Broadband Plan — a 300 page policy doorstop that will provide more people with access to this vital technology, thereby ensuring American global competitiveness for years to come.
I’ve been doing all kinds of stuff on this front for the last few months, weeks and days. Maybe I’ll even tell you about it later. For know, you can rest easy in the knowledge that nobody is gonna be getting up in your bits.