More than 240 show runners and creators of TV and Internet programs on Tuesday sent a strong message to the head of the Federal Communications Commission: Back off on any changes that would weaken Net Neutrality.
The signees of the letter — all members of the the Writers Guild of America, West — stressed to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler the importance of an open Internet to free speech and competitive markets.
“The open Internet is the greatest technological catalyst to participatory democracy and free speech since the printing press,” they said. “That’s why totalitarian states around the world try to control it.”
The FCC is currently considering new Internet regulations and Wheeler last month proposed changes that would have given internet providers — like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon — permission to charge content providers more money for premium (read: faster) access to consumers.
That rule, which Wheeler proposed in reaction to a January court case that struck down several key tenants of Net Neutrality, drew outrage from open internet advocates and content companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, which has now led to Wheeler making at least some sort of concessionary changes.
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.
“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.”
Here’s the full letter:
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
We are writing to express our strong support for an open Internet. We are showrunners and creators of television and original Internet programs, and members of the Writers Guild of America, West.
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.
There are two basic directions that the Internet can go, and the choice is in the FCC’s hands.
Currently, the open Internet works like the phone lines. Consumers can call whomever they want; nobody gets to limit who they can call. Likewise, consumers choose where they want to go on the Internet; no content can be given preferential treatment by their Internet provider.
If Net Neutrality is neutered, the Internet will become like cable television. A few corporate gatekeepers such as Comcast will be allowed to decide what content consumers can access and on what terms. The danger is that blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization could occur.
This puts decision making and power over the Internet in the hands of the few, especially those with money. The Internet is too vital to the free exchange of ideas to allow the few companies who control Internet technology to edit the ideas and content that flow through it.
Moreover, in this case what’s bad for free speech and democracy is also bad economic policy. Economists across the political spectrum agree that when companies can construct barriers to entry, markets are not free and efficient. New competition is locked out, resulting in a form of monopoly that causes consumers to suffer from higher prices — like their cable bills — and fewer choices.
That is exactly what has occurred in our traditional film and television business. After decades of consolidation and mergers, seven corporations control 95% of television production and viewing.