Network Neutrality: the principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
Principle being the operative word in that definition.
On January 14th the United States Court of Appeals ruled in favor of private companies and against the Federal Communication Commission’s attempt to maintain net neutrality. The case, Verizon v. FCC, will likely be appealed but for now, Internet Service Providers (ISP) can regulate broadband usage with complete discretion.
A popular analogy right now to describe the significance is that of cable service providers. They control what the individual can watch in his or her home, and only when that individual is willing to pay more will they gain access to “better channels”, i.e. HBO, Showtime, NFL Network. Many fear a similar approach will soon ensue upon the onion in its entirety.
The argument over net neutrality is massively convoluted and still very much in limbo with many theoretical situations. ISPs are treading carefully right now and will certainly not want to upset their customers, but the fact is, someone is going to have to pay for the bandwidth.
What does this mean for music?
With such a vast spectrum the worst case scenario is that ISPs could deny access to websites who are not willing to pay for increased bandwidth. A drastic move but not one to be ruled out. Essentially this would eliminate an ability to put content in front of us, the consumers, unless you’ve got the cash-money to do so. Now completely blocking a website would likely be met with an onslaught of angry customers and ISPs do not want any more attention regarding network neutrality. If you choose not to pay the ISPs, or can’t afford to, then they’ll probably cripple your site by reverting it back to dial-up speeds, or worse for streaming sites, destroy the sound quality.
Think of YourEDM, if this site was just starting and unable to provide the initial or continued capital to ISPs, our content might never reach you, the reader.
The concept can be applied to artists also. Derek Vincent Smith, aka Pretty Lights, is often recognized for his open source approach towards distribution of music. If ISPs discriminate against certain sites then:
a) You’d likely never hear of this man with the Pretty Lights.
b) The sound quality would be so bad that you’d hate listening to the Pretty Lights and think the name was stupid.
c) Or you’d be paying for Derek’s music and then he’d be just like any other artist, and what’s cool about that?
An ability to get content out to various factions or the public in general is one of the internet’s most endearing qualities, and it’s this very quality that is being threatened. If ISPs are class room bullies than the recent dismantling of network neutrality is like letting the bully decide who gets to go to recess.
Sticking with the metaphors because they’re working. The FCC is the teacher who is attempting to ensure everyone gets to go to recess. However, the far right political party in the United States, the principle in this case, has vowed to completely strip away funding for this noble attempt should the teacher continue to pursue the process. In summary, Republicans will de-fund the FCC should they continue the appeal for network neutrality.
So how will we get our music?
From what we’ve seen so far music service providers will have to get in bed with the very ISPs that are leading the onslaught against the open internet. Beats Music, which hasn’t even launched yet is already prepped to offer AT&T customers a flat rate monthly fee for access to their catalog. Considering they’ve aligned with one of the largest cable and internet providers in the world, it’s doubtful that a user will have any problems with streaming or sound quality.
Creating a platform for the perfect storm, streaming services will then be ‘bundled’. You know the saying, ‘bundle and save’. Well here is your next bundle: cable, internet, phone, and now a music catalog. Such a program all but ensures that music catalogs will soon fall under the oversight of the four or five major internet service providers.