Earlier today, the FCC launched a process to establish new net neutrality rules, sending out a proposal for public comment. “I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be
compromised,” FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler said, during a meeting which was interrupted several times by protesters demanding protections for the open Internet. The proposed new rules would allow Internet providers to create a
so-called “fast lane” for companies that are willing (and able) to pay
for it. The five-member panel voted to put
the plan out for public comment, along with questions about whether the FCC should tighten or loosen its proposed
rules. Given that the commission set a four-month period for public comment, it’s likely that this discussion and debate will continue for months.
Previously, Indiewire published an Op-Ed by Dan Aronson, chief technical officer at Fandor, about why Net Neutrality matters to
filmmakers. Now we present an Op-Ed by Matt Mason, BitTorrent Chief Content Officer, about why Hollywood should defend an open Internet.
There’s a lot of confusion in Hollywood about what the proposed FCC
Net Neutrality rules mean, and what they will mean for the entertainment
Net Neutrality essentially means an open Internet where all traffic
is equal, anyone can publish content, and everyone has access to media.
Free expression, free innovation — our equal rights to both — are
protected. This version of the Internet has fueled two decades of
unprecedented economic and creative growth. The FCC’s Chairman, Tom
Wheeler, is proposing that we close it down.
It’s expected that the FCC’s planned revisions to Net Neutrality
will create a preferential fast lane for designated traffic. Consumers
and companies with the deep pockets to pay for this fast lane will have
the ability to access and distribute content at higher speeds. The
entities that lack this purchasing power will be disadvantaged.
The impact on innovation is obvious. It’s going to be hard to build a
platform, application, or audience if you can’t get online. That means
that the Internet’s current services are all we’re ever going to get.
More than 100 technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter, BitTorrent,
and Amazon have written to US regulators, warning that the proposed Net
Neutrality rules pose a “grave threat to the Internet.” A biased web
inhibits growth. There may never again be a scenario wherein innovation
could overtake an incumbent service; wherein a Facebook could supplant a
Myspace. Our ability to create the next Netflix, YouTube, or even
Google, will be compromised. The entire startup model is at stake. The
next important innovations in entertainment simply won’t happen.
In Hollywood, support for Net Neutrality hasn’t been so forthcoming.
Perhaps it’s because there is a sense that this proposal will not impact
the entertainment industry. Or maybe it’s because (at first blush, at
least) a closed Internet can sound pretty compelling.
Today, more than 7,500 movies are produced each year. The average
consumer will watch just one hundred of those titles. There’s already
too much product for too few eyeballs. An open Internet only compounds
the issue. But a pay-to-play Internet can reduce audience fragmentation;
funneling viewers away from independent streaming sites that can’t pay
for access, and into larger, big-budget releases. As a result, the
industry could operate more efficiently; producing fewer films, while
simultaneously growing the audience for these marquee releases.
A pay-to-play Internet fast lane can also keep competitors and
business models at bay. No new content platforms or applications would
emerge — unless they were capable of paying Verizon or Comcast for
premium access. Hollywood can rely on Netflix, who’ve already put up the
money for preferential traffic treatment. Google will remain an
unchallenged, dominant player. New innovation will wither. The
traditional way of doing business can continue unencumbered.
All this might sound good to some people. But if an Internet with
about as much choice as Taxi TV doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, or a
good way for this town to continue to thrive, let’s consider the threat
of closing the open internet.
A closed Internet will cost us. Consider the retransmission battles
that go on in Cable markets on a regular basis. Imagine it applied to
the Internet. Under that model, we can expect Netflix — or the content
provider of your choice — to be taken down or degraded until a new
agreement is in place, and the provider (the consumer) pays up.
Let’s also consider what an open Internet has meant for Hollywood so
far, and why it might be worth protecting. An open Internet has made new
financing, production, distribution and marketing models a reality.
More users are being reached, and re-engaged, thanks to platforms like
Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. More films are being produced. The global
box office hit a new record of $35.9 billion in the last year. And
digital movie purchases surged 47 percent, now making up for declines in
physical sales and rentals. If you look at the facts and figures, the
industry is in the best shape it’s ever been in. It’s impossible to
ignore the impact of the open Internet on film.
It’s worth thinking about what’s at stake, beyond the lot. The
Internet has ushered in a new era of funding, and with it, an emerging
creative middle class; an unprecedented indie boom. The startups and
platforms that fund our creative middle class are poised to disappear
with Net Neutrality. Any studio or production company that can’t pay for
access or funding will fail.
The impact of a closed Internet is not abstract: something felt only
in Silicon Valley, something for the government to work out. An unequal
Internet is an Internet that’s unsustainable for film.
Our shared creative future is worth fighting for. Hollywood, we need to hear your voice on this issue.
Matt Mason currently serves as Chief Content Officer at BitTorrent, Inc.
He is also the bestselling author of The Pirate’s Dilemma, the first
book in the history of the world to hit the number one spot on Amazon’s
economics/free enterprise bestseller list and the rap bestseller list at
the same time. He has written and produced TV series, screenplays,
comic strips, apps and records, not to mention award-winning, global
advertising campaigns. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, The
Independent, The Observer Music Monthly, Dazed & Confused, Adweek,
VICE, and other publications in more than 20 countries.