The AP reported yesterday that many musicians are coming around to support Net Neutrality. It’s a switch, given that a free Internet was behind the Napster and file-swapping controversies from the mid-1990s–controversies that seriously affected the way the music industry does business. In those days, it was in the best interest of the major record labels to shut down file-swapping, so that musicians would be justly paid for their works.
Of course, the musicians supporting Net Neutrality are not major artists on influential labels; usually they are on small labels or are unsigned. They have the most to lose if the Internet does not stay neutral. If service providers are allowed by Congress to give priority to certain Web sites, smaller musicians who cannot pay for that priority service may remain unheard.
The article quotes Rep. Edward Markey, chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Markey says that a blow to Net Neutrality could hurt innovation in more fields than just music. “This is nothing more than a few bottleneck fee, a corporate broadband tax that will discriminate against less powerful voices and those unable or unwilling to pay such discriminatory fees,” Markey said.
The Internet and World Wide Web have always paralleled the frontier’s evolution. In fact, some have gone so far to call the Web the Digital Frontier. And why shouldn’t it evolve in a similar way? After all, the West was essentially an influx of newly “discovered” land that was suddenly made available for commerce and settlement. The same is true of the Web. In both cases, entirely new markets appeared as if overnight.
In both situations, however, it was the major players, the companies and people in control of communications and transportation, who could determine access to the new frontier. In American history, that control came through the railroads, where rail gauge often decided whose trains could travel the tracks. Preferential treatment was given to those who could manufacture trains that could actually use the network. The same is true for the Internet, in a way. If Net Neutrality folds, large corporations will again decide whose information gets the privilege of traveling over the network.
In the interim spaces, smaller voices and lives get lost.