FCC Gets Hit by a Split Hollywood on Net Neutrality

Filings bring out a major coalition of guilds on one side (against), the WGAW on the other (in favor)

Last Updated: August 12, 2010 @ 5:48 PM

Hollywood’s writers and Hollywood’s artists, directors and studios are entering the net neutrality debate — and this time they aren’t all on the same side.

In one set of filings to the Federal Communications Commission Thursday, a major industry coalition — AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and the Motion Picture Association of America – said they had “grave concerns” about the FCC moving forward with its plan to reclassify the internet as a phone service — which would in effect open the door to a policy favoring net neutrality.

In another filing, the Writers Guild of America West said it has major concerns about not moving forward.

The FCC proposed the reclassification after a court ruled the commission did not have the authority to oversee the internet, blocking movement on net neutrality and improved broadband services.

AFTRA, DGA, SAG, IAATSE and MPAA focused their arguments on piracy. They sought “beseech the commission that any regulatory measures it enacts clearly allow for collaboration between content owners and broadband internet access providers to proactively combat online theft.”

The groups also warned that reclassifying the internet as a phone service "would create extensive regulatory uncertainty.” 

Net neutrality supporters have pointed to studios as likely first big victims of a lack of neutrality, with internet providers likely charge studios extra for delivery of high-priority content like first-run movies. Google and Verizon this week proposed a two-tier internet framework that would allow the companies to charge extra for access to an “alternative” internet and for access to mobile internet. 

AFTRA, the DGA, SAG and MPAA, however, said they were more concerned about the possibility that the FCC’s regulation of the internet “will foster regulatory uncertainty to the detriment of consumers” and make it difficult to implement routine content protection measures online.

The WGAW in its filing called net neutrality “essential.”   

“Guild members benefit from an open internet both as content creators and consumers who write and view news, commentary and entertainment and participate in social networking. While television and film distribution is controlled by a handful of powerful media companies, the internet offers a medium through which anyone with a story can find an audience.”

It suggested that opposition to the reclassification is opposition to net neutrality.

“We respectfully disagree with the industry guilds” that another approach will preserve “a free and open internet that promotes innovation.”

WGAW also said it rejected the idea that concerns about regulatory authority would hurt efforts to control piracy.

“The WGAW is confidant that a free and open internet, governed by net neutrality principles can coexist alongside strong copyright enforcement.”

It also warned about eliminating net neutrality in an effort to boost copyright enforcement.

“To meet that threat with a solution that itself threatens the free flow of content is to prescribe a cure worse than the disease,” said the filing.

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