ArtsWatch: Drive To Reverse Net Neutrality

Rep. Blackburn and Free Press take the lead opposing FCC rules from the right and left
October 03, 2011 -- 8:13 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On Sept. 23 the Federal Register published the Federal Communications Commission's final rules for "Preserving the Open Internet," also known as the FCC's Net neutrality rules. The reactions and responses have only just begun:

  • Consumer advocates Public Knowledge provided a rundown of anticipated legislative and judicial challenges to the FCC. The organization's President Gigi B. Sohn said, "Congress should allow the litigation to move forward to resolve intricate legal issues without political interference."
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has championed a competing vision since January when she introduced H.R. 96, the Internet Freedom Act, and warned that over-regulation could harm the "creative economy." Summing up her stance on the FCC's Net neutrality rules at a Sept. 28 event, Blackburn said, "The FCC's so-called 'Net neutrality' decision was a hyper-reactive, counterproductive example of what happens when government thinks it finds a problem it feels the urgent need to fix." On Sept. 22 Blackburn urged her fellow lawmakers to "act immediately" to block the FCC. "These regulations were approved last December and the FCC has been slow-walking them to avoid the lawsuits that are certain to be filed," she said.
  • Expectations were that Verizon would bring the first lawsuit contesting the FCC's rules since it had filed a January challenge that a court put on hold in April because the Federal Register had not yet published the open Internet rules. But by the time Verizon refiled on Sept. 30 in Washington D.C.'s U.S. Court of Appeals, two other plaintiffs had already brought suits. On Sept. 26 North Carolina's Mountain Area Information Network — a rural Internet service provider — sued the FCC in Richmond, Va.'s U.S. Court of Appeals. On Sept. 28, consumer advocate organization Free Press filed in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, complaining that the rules are arbitrarily different and lax for mobile Internet. "The disparity that the FCC's rules create is unjust and unjustified," said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood. "And it's especially problematic because of the increasing popularity of wireless...."

The FCC's rules reflect a compromise reached by Google and Verizon in August 2010 as well as approaches developed from 2004–2008 under Republican FCC Chairs Michael Powell and Kevin Martin. Although Net neutrality's battles can be simplified as Dems versus GOP, or telcos versus consumers, both the truth and the road ahead are more complex.

European Net neutrality advocates launched on Sept. 22, calling on consumers to document "blocking or throttling of their Internet access, and help name and shame operators' harmful practices." The two organizations leading the effort are the Netherlands' Bits of Freedom and France's La Quadrature du Net. European Commission rules regarding Net neutrality took effect in May and are generally mild; however, violations through the end of the year will be monitored, officially reported and evaluated to consider whether more restrictive rules are advisable. The new site is likely to provide additional data for this monitoring effort.

On Sept. 27 House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus Co-Chairs Reps. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) announced two letters sent to the Federal Trade Commission, respectively calling for investigations of stealthy supercookies and of Facebook cookies that enable tracking even when users are not logged in. Markey said, "Consumers, not corporations, should have the choice about if, how or when their personal information is used."

An interesting footnote to the entertainment-related announcements made by Facebook at its Sept. 22 F8 Developer Conference was mention of pending legislation H.R. 2471, which would change privacy law to allow ongoing, Internet-based consent for sharing lists of video rentals. Because an obscure U.S. law protects consumer video rental privacy by requiring title-by-title written consent, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told conference attendees his service's integration with Facebook will be available in 44 countries, but not the United States.

On Sept. 23 PaidContent reported on the little-known activities of Digital Rights Corp., a company that has been making legal settlements with Internet-infringing consumers for the low rate of $10 per infringed musical work, with discounts for volume available on a case-by-case basis. The firm's COO Robert Steele said they do not plan to bring lawsuits, but view their activities as a way to disrupt the file-sharing lifestyle. Detailed information about the company's music clients or the sums it has collected so far were not disclosed.

The World Intellectual Property Organization inaugurated its new office in Geneva on Sept. 26. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry addressed the organization's future challenges, which include development of a copyright infrastructure to "enable global licensing and digital markets" as the world's cultural content migrates to the Internet. On Sept. 29 WIPO's General Assembly declared that efforts to negotiate an international treaty to protect performers' rights in audiovisual works have reached the final phase so that an international diplomatic conference will be convened in 2012.


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