The digital music industry may be dealt a major blow on December 21st when the FCC is scheduled to unveil proposed net neutrality regulations. Designed ostensibly to keep ISP‘s from unfairly limiting certain kinds of Internet usage, early indications are that the new rules could also hurt at several sectors critical to the growth of many music tech startups and the new music industry.
Wireless internet use will not be covered in the new FCC according to ars and statements by the FCC commissioners. Carriers will be free to limit or charge more for music, video and other heavy bandwidth activities. That’s bad news for streaming music services like Pandora, Slacker, MOG and Spotify. All have seen explosive growth thanks to smartphone adoption and many also rely on mobile offerings to lure premium fees from users. Online music lockers and other music in the cloud efforts would also take a hit if portable streaming gets more expensive.
New America Media:
Within 24 hours of the shooting of Oscar Grant – an unarmed, 22-year-old African American killed by a white BART police officer on New Year’s Day 2009 – Oakland rap artist Mistah F.A.B. recorded a poignant, heartfelt tribute titled, “My Life.”
F.A.B. recorded the song to “enlighten people to what’s going on.” But given the highly controversial, racially charged subject matter, he said, “I knew that the local radio station wasn’t gonna play it. I knew the clubs weren’t going to play it.”
“My Life” was too hot for mainstream outlets to touch. But thanks to the Internet, F.A.B. could bypass those venues and post a video of the song on YouTube. It quickly received more than 15,000 views. “My Life” was also noted on numerous sites around cyberspace, from San Francisco’s Indybay.org to Philadelphia’s OkayPlayer.com to Helsinki’s Multitunes.com. The song appeared as a link more than 45,000 times between January and April 2009.
The exposure F.A.B got for his online-only video illustrates precisely what’s at stake in an ongoing fight between telecommunications companies and free speech advocates over keeping the Internet open and unrestricted. The conflict centers on the preservation of network neutrality – a cornerstone principle of consumer online rights that the Internet shouldn’t be a toll road, with cost-based barriers to entry. In other words, no Internet service provider should create a cyber-Fastrak lane for those who can pay premium prices for high-download speed and a slow-moving, congested lane for everyone else.
Without net neutrality, F.A.B would have found access to his Internet video at the mercy of the toll road. Such a prospect would have inhibited his efforts, as well as those of others, to raise awareness over an important community issue.
Right now, there is a raging debate over what you as a consumer can do online and what it should cost you. More and more, Americans are downloading music and streaming movies on their computers, but more streaming and downloading means more Internet traffic. And the rules regarding all that traffic are still very much up in the air.
The latest salvo in the debate over so-called Net neutrality is a tussle between NetFlix and Internet giant Comcast. And while the mechanics of Net neutrality can be a bit confusing, what the government eventually decides may ultimately affect what you can do or watch online and what you’ll pay for it.
To help us sort out what Net neutrality is really about and what it means for you is Wired magazine’s Ryan Singel
COX: Let’s begin with this. When we talk about Net neutrality, what are we talking about in terms people can understand?
Mr. SINGEL: It’s a very complicated term, but essentially, there’s a few principles, which is one, the Internet should be open and free. So people should be able to use the devices, the services, the application, the browser of their choice, and they should be able to have a choice between ISPs. And one of the other points is that ISPs, you know, should not be choosing winners and losers on the Internet, so they should not be choosing that Hulu will stream for free but NetFlix will cost you more.
COX: All right, all right. Now, what is the problem then? Now that we know what Net neutrality is, what is the current controversy and crisis?
Mr. SINGEL: What happened is in the Bush administration they deregulated, so they moved ISPs into this kind of loose category of regulation. And they set this four rules, basically saying that, you know, people could use whatever services they wanted and whatever browser they wanted and whatever software they wanted. And then Comcast got caught messing with peer-to-peer traffic. They were blocking it. So the FCC tried to enforce these regulations against the – against Comcast and go ahead.
COX: Excuse me. Let me stop you again just because I want to make sure that we don’t lose people. Peer-to-peer traffic would be what?
Mr. SINGEL: Peer-to-peer traffic is a way of downloading very large files, so it can be very – it has a lot of traffic involved with it. So you can download a movie or you can download a new operating system and you’re not getting it just from one server. You’re getting it from a whole bunch of people on the Internet that everybody shares bandwidth.
COX: Is that what people do when they, for example, download movies?
Mr. SINGEL: It is if you’re downloading – it’s a very common way to download pirated movies, but there’s also some very legitimate uses for it.