ArtsWatch: FCC's Authority To Regulate Net Neutrality Is Neutered

Comcast court victory leaves agency searching for new power to regulate the Internet
April 12, 2010 -- 9:09 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 April 6 Washington, D.C.'s U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a lower court's decision that the Federal Communications Commission could use its "ancillary jurisdiction" to prohibit Internet service provider Comcast from slowing down selected varieties of Internet data — in other words, violating Net neutrality by discriminating against different kinds of file types. This throws aspects of the FCC's National Broadband Plan and Open Internet proceeding into regulatory limbo, since for the time being the agency only has the power to investigate and recommend but not enforce. Some believe this problem was caused by deregulation and should be solved by reclassifying Internet broadband under a different section of existing statutes, while others anticipate Congress will act to grant the FCC new specific authority. Consumer advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation view this court decision with some relief, even though the organization strongly supports Net neutrality and Open Internet principles. EFF maintains the status quo has consumers on the alert and ISPs cooperating, so allowing the FCC to regulate the Internet under vague and broad powers would grant it dangerous "carte blanche authority" that could be abused in the future.

Score, an organization offering counsel to small businesses, held a kick-off event on April 7 launching their Public/Private Broadband Consortium to help small businesses take effective advantage of high-speed Internet. Founding participants include AT&T, Best Buy, Cisco, Google, HP, Microsoft, Skype, and Time Warner Cable, and the consortium begins its activities with $1.1 million in corporate donations. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Small Business Administration head Karen Mills spoke at the event.

Project GOAL (Get Older Adults Online) launched on April 5 to promote broadband to seniors and focus on aging-related benefits such as health and reducing social isolation. Initial corporate sponsors include AT&T, Comcast, Facebook, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

As covered in NewsWatch, on April 1 the Department of Commerce declared its support for the Performance Rights Act, which would grant royalties to performers whose works are broadcast on radio. The department's letter said, "Today, the United States stands alone among industrialized nations in not recognizing a public performance right in sound recordings."

On April 7 the American Society of Media Photographers sued Google for copyright infringement in New York's U.S. District Court, joined by several other organizations representing visual artists. This class action suit is similar to the years-old class action against Google brought by the Authors Guild and was initiated separately because that case has a settlement pending and its judge would not allow new plaintiffs to join in. Although both cases center on Google's massive book scanning efforts, ASMP said, "The new class action goes beyond Google's Library Project, and includes Google's other systematic and pervasive infringements of the rights of photographers, illustrators and other visual artists."

The Blu-ray Disc Association announced on April 3 that specifications for two higher density optical formats are expected in the next few months. Two formats are presently on the market — 25 GB single-layer and 50 GB dual-layer discs. The upcoming BDXL format will use three or four layers to boost capacities to 128 GB for write-once discs and 100 GB for either write-once or rewritable discs. BDXL is intended to provide an alternative to magnetic tape for large-scale archival storage. The upcoming IH-BD format is called Intra-Hybrid because it combines a 25 GB read-only layer with a 25 GB write-once layer — enabling published consumer entertainment to prerecord the read-only layer and then have the consumer's disc-drive write new data to the disc that will be unique for each individual user. Although new player hardware will be needed to read the upcoming formats, once these arrive the new drives will be able to handle today's Blu-ray discs.

Japan's High-tech Crime Control Office launched a new surveillance system in January to monitor infringement on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. The first arrest based on this new technology was a senior citizen who confessed he has shared hundreds of movies over the last few years, including the recently released Avatar.

On April 6 IFPI reported that two sets of antipiracy raids in Mexico resulted in the seizure of more than 1 million recorded CD-R discs, more than 1 million recorded DVD-R discs, and more than 300 disc burners. The raids covered seven labs, 70 warehouses, and resulted in eight arrests.

Spain's proposed Sustainable Economy Law became public for the first time earlier this month, revealing details that will be debated and hopefully become law before July. The procedure to crack down on online piracy permits only copyright holders or collecting societies to report infringing Web sites to the Intellectual Property Commission for its determination whether infringement actually occurred. This determination must then be reviewed by the Madrid High Court within four days to finally decide whether a site or portions of a site are to be shut down.


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