Net Neutrality and the Arts
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new rules for enforcing net neutrality. Independent agency rulemaking might sound like a sleepy topic, but over 4 million people – a record-setting number – sent in comments. What does the rule mean for artists and arts organizations?
First, what is “net neutrality?”
It’s the idea that your Internet Service Provider (ISP), like Verizon or Comcast, doesn't discriminate when it comes to Internet traffic—meaning throttling or blocking legal content that you want to access or share. A company also can’t pay your ISP to speed up service for certain sites.
There are a whole bunch of entertaining videos that try to better explain it, like this fun one from Extra Credits.
So, what’s the problem?
Legal action threw out the FCC’s previous Open Internet Order—leaving no rules in place.
A lot is at stake.
At the heart of the issue is how to ensure an open Internet that preserves everyone's ability to communicate freely online to learn, engage, innovate, and be entrepreneurial. The open architecture of the Internet has created unprecedented opportunities for artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs.
In July, we encouraged arts advocates to take action and submit a comment to the FCC, as part of their public notice of proposed rulemaking. We at Americans for the Arts took our own advice and joined a coalition of arts and cultural organizations’ comments to the FCC led by Future of Music Coalition. The topic was prominent during some of our arts & technology National Arts Policy Roundtable last fall, and emerged as a clear grassroots movement. Given its huge potential impact on the way information is exchanged and expressed, the intense discussion was welcomed news!
For several years, net neutrality concerns have been a part of our annual message to Congress as part of Arts Advocacy Day. This year, it is again, and on March 23 as part of workshop training for Arts Advocacy Day attendees (PS: There is still time to register!), there will be a special breakout session on the topic with policy experts.
Ok. So, what happened in last week’s ruling?
In a widely anticipated ruling on February 26, the FCC ruled - in a split (3-2) vote and along party lines - to reclassify broadband as a utility, which would give the commission more regulatory power over Internet providers. It would be regulated like your water or electricity. It might hinder innovation and investment. It is also the agency's strongest legal authority. Here is an FCC fact sheet. Interestingly, the full text is not yet publicly released, because of deep-seated controversy.
What happens now?
Congress is considering options. As mentioned, the vote was split and very divisive. Chairs of the telecommunications committees, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR), are working on their own alternative plan for net-neutrality policy. Here’s their draft legislation. Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee also have penned sharp opposition to the FCC rule. Legal action is expected. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also introduced legislation (H.R. 1212) that would remove the FCC's authority even to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. It’s gotten 31 cosponsors after just one day.
What can you do?
- Come to Arts Advocacy Day!
- Tell your representatives to preserve an open Internet where artists and creative entrepreneurs can reach potential audiences, build businesses, and contribute to culture.
- Keep up the pressure to ensure that content creators and everyday users can continue to benefit from the open Internet and the innovations it inspires.
- Ask questions and share your thoughts.
John Oliver showed us the power of one, and the power of us all. Let’s all help make sure someone is always watching the watchers.