Screenwriting, Film-Making and Web TV
In a 3-2 ruling on Friday, the FCC decided that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can create and maintain Internet “Fast Lanes,” ostensibly per negotiated agreements with major content providers such as Facebook, Google and Netflix. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will face Congressional hearings on the matter on Tuesday May 20.
The ruling, which was preceded a month earlier by an agreement between Netflix and Comcast that provided Netflix with a significant performance boost, calls into question the ability of many smaller companies to maintain adequate performance levels without ponying up for services they may not be able to afford.
Additionally, the ruling calls into question the mechanics of the priority access. Some insiders say it’s simply a matter of converting the big content providers over to the ISP’s system, but others argue that there is a “throttling” component that ISPs can use to control the performance experience for companies that don’t pay up.
“This is not about a faster Internet for users,” said Steve Farnsworth, a content marketing strategist for Steveology Group, which has been studying the issue for years. “It’s fundamentally a government approved protection racket. Consumers who already pay for high-speed Internet will ultimately pay more for the same speed or settle for a slower Internet.
“Imagine the United States Post Office knocks on your door. The letter carrier demands a ‘Special’ handling fee for a letter you already mailed. They explain that this handling fee ensures your letter is delivered at the usual time. However, if you don’t pay up, the letter might get lost in the back of the mail truck for a week. No crime has been committed since it’s now legal to shake you down.”
In the Internet world, the difference in performance can be measured in anything from milliseconds to a second or two in most cases, but those milliseconds are known to cost real dollars – lots of real dollars. Some of the lost money comes from systems timing out or performing so slow that gamers end up losing points, but others are lost when corporate computers or financial systems slow down at critical times, causing faulty work or costing millions in lost transactions.
In general, companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Yahoo all suffer when they can’t get those higher speeds, so there’s a strong incentive to break down net neutrality.
But not every major content provider is quick to agree with the proposed changes. The Writers Guild of America, West, which represents writers of television shows, online shows and movies, sent a strong message to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler opposing any effort to weaken Net Neutrality.
The letter was signed by more than 240 showrunners and creators, who implored the Commission to keep the Internet free and open.
“The open Internet is the greatest technological catalyst to participatory democracy and free speech since the printing press. That’s why totalitarian states around the world try to control it,” said the Guild’s letter.
“An open Internet has expanded the content marketplace, giving writers new ways to reach the public,” said Jill Soloway, who signed the letter and whose series Transparent was picked up by Amazon earlier this year. “Now is the time to protect the Internet to ensure its enormous potential is accessible to as many people as possible.”
Of particular concern to the Guild are proposed rules that allow Internet service providers to block content, charge for prioritization or otherwise discriminate in treatment of Internet traffic. The WGAW recently submitted comments to the FCC, which can be found here: http://www.wga.org/uploadedFiles/news_and_events/public_policy/Comments-WGAW-Matter-Open-Internet-Remand.pdf.
“The media business is experiencing new competition for the first time in decades, due entirely to an open Internet,” said WGAW President and showrunner Chris Keyser. “Writers have new outlets such as Netflix and Amazon to sell to, and consumers have new video options to choose from. But this progress is threatened if the FCC adopts weak Net Neutrality rules that allow for paid prioritization and other discriminatory behavior.”
For its part, the FCC has been hinting that it would rule this way for some time, also despite reassurances from some industry pundits that it would never happen.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been adamantly calling the bluff all along, alerting consumers to the imminent action.
“The FCC has been cornered by overwhelming, and negative, public response to reports the new rules will implicitly endorse ‘internet fast lanes,’ allowing Internet providers to discriminate how we access websites by offering an option for web companies to pay to connect to users at faster speeds,” said a recent FCC statement. “These kinds of ‘pay to play’ access fees, if implemented, would be a disaster for the future of the open Internet. When new innovative websites can’t afford high fees for faster service, they’ll be less likely to reach users and less likely to succeed. The result: a less diverse Internet.”
The EFF said the new regulations “will turn ISPs into gatekeepers, making special deals with a few companies and inhibiting new competition, innovation and expression.”
“There is still hope,” said Farnsworth. “If people go to www.FCC.gov/comments page and leave a comment demanding they re-classify Internet providers as common carrier, like other utilities, we can stop this boondoggle.”
This article was originally published in SV411.