There's a piece that ran in Huffington Post a short while ago that does a great job in showing why the open internet matters to everyone. The article, by Center for Media Justice Executive Director Malkia Cyril, Free Press' Joseph Torres and Afro-Netizen founder Chris Rabb, centers on the social justice side of net neutrality. But you can easily see how it applies to musicians and other creators, who use the internet as a primary vehicle to cultivate audiences, promote their work and express themselves.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now considering new rules that could protect the fundamental principle of "Network Neutrality" once and for all. Net Neutrality prohibits Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, discriminating against or deterring Internet users from accessing online content and applications of their choice — such as e-newsletters, blogs, social networking sites, online videos, podcasts and smartphone apps.
It's not that network owners are secretly plotting to stifle free speech. But they have an undeniable, rational interest in creating a pay-for-play model for the treatment of communication on the Internet. Commercial Web sites that pay will get speed and quality, and the noncommercial uses of the Net will be collateral damage — relegated to the slow lane. It's not necessarily that they want to block our speech for political reasons. It's that our speech is not important to them because it's not going to make them money.
Net neutrality is the principle that preserves an open Internet. It ensures that all users can access the lawful content, or run the applications and devices of their choice. Net neutrality also lets independent artists and labels compete on an equal technological playing field with the biggest companies. And it's incredibly important to YOUR right to expression.
Although ISPs might not have a uniform agenda to censor, there have been troubling instances where the result has been the same. In 2007, Pearl Jam performed at Lollapalooza. AT&T had the exclusive right to the online broadcast of the concert, and during an improvised segment, singer Eddie Vedder made statements critical about then-President George W. Bush. AT&T censored this portion of the broadcast, leaving viewers at home wondering what he was saying. Do you think your internet provider should decide what is or isn't "acceptable" speech?
The scenarios that Malkia, Joe and Chris describe — where information, expression and commerce online are controlled by gatekeepers — could easily emerge if we fail to establish net neutrality rules that clearly outline what is and isn't acceptable behavior by network operators. We've seen what it looks like when a few powerful corporations control access to other media: just look at what happened to commercial radio after the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Strong, enforceable net neutrality provisions would prevent the internet from becoming a "pay-to-play" zone where well-funded entities enjoy preferential treatment and everyone else is a "second-class netizen."
Not only does Net Neutrality expand media diversity and access by ensuring fairness and nondiscrimination by big corporations, it will prevent the kind of media consolidation that has happened in the broadcast industry by helping our communities develop a diversity of civic and commercial online enterprises on a scale that represents our growing online numbers.
Again, the article is talking about the fight to ensure that all Americans, including those of color, have access to the most powerful communications platform in history. We at FMC are 100 percent behind efforts to increase diversity in media and online. Creative content plays a huge part in that diversity. The internet means that bluegrass fans in Australia can connect with pickers in the U.S. of A., all without interference from gatekeepers and middlemen. It means that a "new music" composer like Alex Shapiro can earn commissions from her MySpace page. It means that Erin McKeown can play "virtual concerts" for her devoted fanbase without leaving her house. It means that bands like OK Go can make a homemade video, post it to YouTube and inspire a global phenomenon.
But the open internet is not only important to the creative marketplace, it's crucial to everyone — from community groups to entrepreneurs and innovators to musicians to fans. That's why net neutrality is to important to give up. What will YOU do to preserve the open internet?