Thursday, March 13, 2008

Net Neutrality Naughty?

Hollywood studios are taking a position on net neutrality – the principle that ISPs should not discriminate against small users when providing network bandwidth – and they’re against it. In reported remarks at the annual movie exhibitors conference ShoWest, MPAA chief Dan Glickman claimed that net neutrality would inhibit industry efforts to combat piracy – presumably because it would ensure that even pirate sites receive sufficient bandwidth for efficient uploads and downloads. (Glickman’s reported comments don’t include this, or any other, explanation, however.)

The argument in favor of net neutrality, let’s remember, is that it enables new websites – potential new businesses – the opportunity to innovate, and possibly become the next Google. That’s one way of maintaining the level playing field that has enabled the Internet’s phenomenal growth. Net neutrality also maintains the net’s role as history’s most dramatic bastion of free speech and citizen access to (virtual) printing presses.

Glickman’s remarks, in my opinion, are just one recent attack on non-MSM (mainstream media) websites. The other was a judge’s decision several weeks ago, to shut down an entire website (WikiLeaks) because of one document a plaintiff objected to. That decision resulted in a barrage of criticism, leading the judge to overturn his ruling two weeks later. Meanwhile, legislation regarding net neutrality sits in Congress, but has little chance of moving during an election year.

A related threat, though, is that telco and cable co. investment in last-mile infrastructure to homes and businesses is lagging demand, leading to Internet speeds in the U.S. far slower than in other countries. As traffic increases, U.S. ability to accommodate video sites, videoconferencing and other apps may not keep pace. Congress may have to weigh in here as well.

The MPAA, by the way, is the movie industry trade association that takes positions on public policy issues, as well as issues movie ratings. It’s not to be confused with the AMPTP, which negotiates Hollywood labor contracts such as the recently concluded writers and directors deals, or with AMPAS (the movie Academy), which awards the Oscars, or, for that matter, with ATAS (the TV Academy), which awards the primetime Emmys. Hollywood’s not only a jungle, it’s an alphabet soup.