Monday, September 17, 2007

Leveling the Playing Field: how does broadband policy affect musicians?

Congress and the FCC are currently working a series of initiatives designed to revise the telecommunications regulatory framework, with everything from spectrum reform, to broadband deployment, to network neutrality on the table. How will proposed revisions impact musicians, citizens and technologists? How does broadband policy intersect with concerns about protecting intellectual property? What would a pro-musician Telecom Act look like?

Charles Bissell
Musician, The Wrens
Scott Cleland
Peter Gordon
President, Thirsty Ear
Jason Oxman
Vice President, Communications, Consumer Electronics Association
Ben Scott
Policy Director, Free Press
Tim Wu Professor, Columbia Law School

05:00PM EST - KT: Charles, how has the internet affected the way you interact with fans and the greater music community?

CB: We took a break for a few years in the late 90s. Coming back to the game in the early 2000s has been entirely different. We use all the regular web tools to promote and advance our music, but the interaction now is constant and not limited by geography. It's really cool.

PG: Technology has always led our business. Obsolescence of music media has always worked in our favor - until the internet came around. Now it's a very different conversation. The internet gives us everything and it gives us nothing. We need to find a way to go from Point A to Point B without having to justify what's ours. You hear a lot about the doom and gloom of the music industry, but that's on the physical side. The PRO side is quite a different story. How do harness these positives?

05:07PM EST - KT: Ben, what should the baseline requirements for internet access be?

BS: Obviously the baseline is always moving, but one musician's work should matter just as much as any other's. All users with new and innovative ideas for distributing content should retain their ability to do so.

KT: Whether it's service or price, a lot of people are unhappy with their ISP. Broadband deployment needs to be done better on a large scale. Tim, what do you think?

TW: I'd say the state of broadband in the US is not ideal. The ability of bands to reach their audience is certainly affected. Technology is always getting better, except for broadband. Cable and telephone networks were installed in the 1910s. I think that's a failure of government to install the proper infrastructure. Right now we're relying on private companies to build functions that are the state's responsibility to provide. The private sector has done what its can, but we are not spending enough money on broadband.

SC: Representing the cable industry, you might imagine that I disagree. Six years ago, cable was a monopoly. Congress decided to try competition. There has been more money spent on broadband access in this country than anywhere in the world. The cable industry alone has spent $100 billion. Our best states are better than the best countries in Europe. It's not deplorable. It's all going in the right direction.

05:17PM EST - TW: I'm not saying the cable industry did a bad job, I'm saying there needs to be a public role in this. We have to tell the government we want everyone to have broadband.

SC: The internet took off when it was privatized. We don't want broadband to become a public utility. Nobody knew about the internet until it was was privatized. The internet is the greatest deregulation success story of history.

BS: I know a different history. Broadband penetration is falling in the US. It is more expensive and slower here. In Western Europe, its not unusual to have a dozen choices for broadband. In this country we have two.

05:23PM EST - Let's talk about the recent Pearl Jam/AT&T censorship issue. What can we learn from that incident?

TW: I want to try and bring net neutrality to music, which is hard. A lot of it can be understood by thinking about intermediaries, and the problems of large ones. One of the reasons the music world is so complicated right now is because the largest intermediaries (labels, distributores) are changing, and we wonder who the new intermediaries will be. I'm going to suggest that there is a new crop of intermediaries that are counter-productive to the world of music, and these are the large telecom companies. Their interest is not music, but collecting as much money as they can out of each actor in the business. That's where the danger is.

05:29PM EST - JO: The end of the story with AT&T is that they admitted they were wrong. The gateway issue raises one of the broader concerns about the availability of consumer-used broadband. NBC called on the FCC to adopt, as a matter of broadband policy, an obligation imposed on network owners to monitor their traffic, citing piracy as the justifying demon. The idea that broadband companies should restrict their customers' robust use of their service is absolutely the wrong direction to go in.

PG: The music industry has suffered because of the gate-keepers. We don't want to trade one set of them for another. The record industry is so slow to keep up with technology, that quite frankly you have to infringe first and settle later.

05:35PM EST - KT: We can all recognize that iTunes, among others, brought a lot of clarity to a floundering music industry. New interactive webcasting services such as Pandora and have relied on a level playing field. How can we ensure the introduction of such similar music platforms in the future?

SC: Musicians should be backing us on this. The diversity of the internet will be maintained by free competition. Why would we want a one-size fits all? Different consumers want different things, and they should be able to get them. Some people don't want to pay, so they go to free wi-fi. Some people want huge bandwidth; they should be able to get it.

BS: That is absolutely wrong. Let's not do anything that hands the keys to the kingdom to the people who control the wires. If you want a clear example, look at your wireless device. Try to get some music on it. The wireless broadband industry is case-in-point for everything we are against - gatekeepers controlling the content you can access. They can tell you what artists you can download, what labels, what songs.

SC: There are off-setting benefits here for the loss in content availability, and those are price. We in this country use our handheld devices 4x more than Europe, and for a lower price. It's a trade-off. What would you rather have?

05:42PM EST - KT: Can you sum up in one sentence what you would ask of the government on this issue?
BS: "We want the internet to be free of gate-keepers, as it always has been."
SC: "Don't regulate or tax the internet, let it evolve the way it is right now."

TW: The internet should be non-discriminatory, and should treat everything that passes through their networks the same. The internet should not be like commercial radio, where providers can decide what content the whole country gets.

PG: Most of us here create content, and were under the illusion that content is king. There is a need to on a capitalist front to say we must intercept content. We all have to make a living. Let's imagine a world without content. Without music. Will you be here? [gesturing to Jason Oxman and Scott Cleland] I don't think so.

05:42PM EST - KT: How do you deal with the unauthorized distribution of music? Whether legal or not, file-sharing puts a strain on networks.

JO: Of course, commercial piracy is wrong. However, let's not conflate that with the problem of network neutrality. You wouldn't outlaw the autmobile because some people use it to speed. We should not harm broadband as a result of anti-filesharing measures. This goes back to the Grokster case.

PG: I would disagree. The responsibility lies on all of us to monitor these activities. We have to all work together.

TW: I think it's sort of the challenge of our era. The point of a copyright system is to compensate authors and provide an incentive to create. If that's the point, the question is: are our current means the best way of doing that? We've had a ten-year experiment in copyright law in the age of the internet. It's kind of a mixed picture. Copyright law is obviously not very good at stopping everybody from downloading music illegaly. However it has been effective in keeping commercially pirated CDs and DVDs out of our stores, in this country. Certain people, more and more, will never pay for music. How then, do we compensate authors? The conversation should not revolve around killing the internet. It's here to stay. Suing the customers is also not the solution. The conversation should focus honestly on compensating content creators in a fair way.

05:54PM EST - Questions from the audience

Q: Is there a role for the state legislatures to play in net neutrality?
SC: It's a federal question. Of course the states have a law enforcement role for those committing crimes on the internet.

BS: States can make it clear to their federal representative that they don't like what is happening.

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