More than 240 TV showrunners and creators have joined the growing chorus of tech companies, consumer advocates and media interests, by writing to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler and asking him to rethink his ill-advised plan for neutered net neutrality.
“The open Internet is the greatest technological catalyst to participatory democracy and free speech since the printing press,” reads the letter — signed by TV biggies like Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan, Murphy Brown‘s Diane English, Carlton Cuse of Lost and Nash Bridges fame, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes, and hundreds of others. “That’s why totalitarian states around the world try to control it.”
At the core of the letter’s complaint is the notion of Internet “fast lanes,” where ISPs could charge certain content providers more money for a better class of access to the end-user. Previous net neutrality rules had prohibited this sort of prioritization, just as it forbade blocking or throttling of content. But Wheeler’s initial draft of new neutrality guidelines would allow them under certain conditions.
“If Net Neutrality is neutered, the Internet will become like cable television,” explains the letter. “A few corporate gatekeepers such as Comcast will be allowed to decide what content consumers can access and on what terms. The danger is that blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization could occur.”
The TV people say that pay-for-priority arrangements consolidate control of data “in the hands of the few, especially those with money.”
They also express concern about what impact fast lanes would have on startup technology and services that are intended to be disruptive to established, heavily consolidated media and content providers.
“That is exactly what has occurred in our traditional film and television business. After decades of consolidation and mergers, seven corporations control 95% of television production and viewing,” explains the letter. “But right now the Internet is opening up the media business to new competition. There are new buyers for what we as writers create. But if this new competition is unfairly pushed aside because the FCC adopts weak rules, rather than allowing consumers to decide what they prefer, neither innovation nor the best interests of society will be served.”
Wheeler has reportedly eased his stance on fast lanes, inserting language into his draft — in advance of Thursday’s scheduled vote by the full FCC — that would reportedly limit the cases in which pay-for-priority deals could be made. The amended draft also includes a request for public comment on two other notions — banning fast lanes altogether, and possibly reclassifying broadband as telecommunications infrastructure.
We’ll know after Thursday’s vote what does and doesn’t remain in Wheeler’s proposal. Until then, all we can do is continue to express our concerns.
Below is the full letter from the TV folks to Wheeler, along with the full list of signers (as of 2:30 p.m. ET on May 13). The Writers Guild is still allowing showrunners to add their name to this list, so we’re really hoping that Community‘s Dan Harmon crawls out from whatever dark alley he’s moping in for long enough to add his name.
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
We are writing to express our strong support for an open Internet. We are showrunners and creators of television and original Internet programs, and members of the Writers Guild of America, West.
The open Internet is the greatest technological catalyst to participatory democracy and free speech since the printing press. That’s why totalitarian states around the world try to control it.
There are two basic directions that the Internet can go, and the choice is in the FCC’s hands.
Currently, the open Internet works like the phone lines. Consumers can call whomever they want; nobody gets to limit who they can call. Likewise, consumers choose where they want to go on the Internet; no content can be given preferential treatment by their Internet provider.
If Net Neutrality is neutered, the Internet will become like cable television. A few corporate gatekeepers such as Comcast will be allowed to decide what content consumers can access and on what terms. The danger is that blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization could occur.
This puts decision making and power over the Internet in the hands of the few, especially those with money. The Internet is too vital to the free exchange of ideas to allow the few companies who control Internet technology to edit the ideas and content that flow through it.
Moreover, in this case what’s bad for free speech and democracy is also bad economic policy. Economists across the political spectrum agree that when companies can construct barriers to entry, markets are not free and efficient. New competition is locked out, resulting in a form of monopoly that causes consumers to suffer from higher prices- like their cable bills- and fewer choices.
That is exactly what has occurred in our traditional film and television business. After decades of consolidation and mergers, seven corporations control 95% of television production and viewing.
But right now the Internet is opening up the media business to new competition. There are new buyers for what we as writers create. But if this new competition is unfairly pushed aside because the FCC adopts weak rules, rather than allowing consumers to decide what they prefer, neither innovation nor the best interests of society will be served.
An open Internet is essential for free speech and participatory democracy. An open Internet has also been a tremendous engine for the generation of new jobs and businesses, an engine that properly rewards creators who have something compelling to say.
The Commission has the authority to keep the Internet free and open. We urge you to take the steps necessary to ensure the free flow of ideas and content across the web, without the threat of blocking or discrimination.
Courtney Kemp Agboh
John D. Beck
Glenn Gordon Caron
David X. Cohen
Charles H. Eglee
David A. Goodman
David S. Goyer
Felicia D. Henderson
Michael B. Kaplan
Andrew W. Marlowe
Ronald D. Moore
Rockne S. O’Bannon
Patrick Sean Smith
Kathryn J. Steinberg