What is the big deal with net neutrality? For a generation of musical creatives that rely on the internet to share their artistic works, having equal access feels like a fundamental right. But that’s under threat in the United States – keep reading to learn more about what net neutrality is, how it’s under threat, and what a world without it could look like for DJs and producers.
Net Neutrality 101
The current state of internet regulation is a bit complex. Right now, the FCC’s Chairman, Ajit Pai, is proposing eliminating regulations that classify Internet service providers as public utilities. Because of this classification, there are explicit regulations that prohibit slowing down internet traffic based on content – or creating “high speed lanes” for traffic that they want to prioritize.
This level playing field is the concept of net neutrality – that all internet traffic is treated equally, and that service providers (often large monopolies – Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon) can’t “play favorites” in terms of which sites and services get priority.
Here’s a quick overview video explaining more:
Should Artists Care?
Yes, it’s a huge deal for anyone working in any art form that can be distributed via the internet. Just this week, a letter to the U.S. Congress from 150+ artists (including The Glitch Mob, Bassnectar, Gramatik, STS9, and others) encapsulated the issue pretty well:
For the artists of the future, and the culture of the future, we will not be silent.
Title II guarantees net neutrality and prevents powerful telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from deciding what art, as well as what news, is easily accessible online.
If the FCC votes to gut these protections it will explicitly allow Internet providers to charge extra fees that amount to a tax on the entire creative economy. A few corporations will have control over what you see and hear, while independent and up-and-coming artists’ ability to make a living will be devastated.
Without net neutrality there will be less awesome art. Period.
What Post-Net Neutrality Might Look Like for Music Producers + DJs
So beyond it being a nebulous threat to the creation of “awesome art” – what are real world hypothetical repercussions to the FCC’s axing of net neutrality? Here’s a few not-so-crazy ideas:
DJ Music Stores + Record Pools Could Increase Their Prices
Downloading music (particularly in high quality, more on that later) is a big source of internet bandwidth usage. In a post-NN world, ISPs will want to make sure that sites that have business models that revolve around using more bandwidth are paying their fair share – or get put in the “slow lane”. Sure, companies like Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes would be able to cover the cost – but smaller specialty services like Beatport, Juno, or even digital record pools for DJs would likely have to increase their prices to compensate.
Audio Platforms (Soundcloud, Mixcloud) Would Only Exist In An Industry-Approved Way
We still have a music industry that actively attempts to discourage upstart streaming platform. Major distributors have already succeeded in pushing rampant monetization (Soundcloud) or proprietary restrictions (Mixcloud) on these platforms.
But with net neutrality eliminated, major music distributors might have another negotiating trick up their sleeves.
“T-Mobile allows multiple video and music streaming services to bypass its data limits, essentially allowing it to pick winners and losers in those categories.
Consumers will likely see more arrangements like these, granting or blocking access to specific content” – via Wired
It’s no secret that telecom companies have a close – if not direct – relationship with media distribution companies. Look no further than Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal, a massive content creation company. It’s easy to imagine major labels and distributors negotiating with ISPs to put platforms like Soundcloud into the “internet slow lane” if they’re not willing to make specific concessions.
Sound illegal? It would have to be challenged in court – and would be much harder to win if ISPs aren’t regulated under Title II anymore.
Fewer Listeners / Fans
This one is pretty easy. If your potential fans have to pay more to access sites with your content on it, they’re less likely to get that far. This comment from Reddit encapsulates pretty well why a tiered internet service plan might reduce potential audience sizes:
Small / Startup Audio Platforms Would Be Less Likely To Succeed
“It can be hard for smaller companies to even get a meeting with large broadband providers. In 2014, when T-Mobile launched a program that exempted music streaming services from its users’ data caps, the founder of streaming service SomaFM complained that his company had been left out. T-Mobile added SomaFM to the program a year later, but it’s not clear how many customers SomaFM may have lost in the interim.” – Wired
Pretty much every website that we use as DJs was once a small company – or still is. When ISPs and telecoms are allowed to choose winners that they have business ties too, the smaller sites would take the hit. SomaFM is a good example, but remember when Soundcloud was a tiny site? Would it even exist today if it were subject to restrictive data speeds and caps?
Probably Say Goodbye To A Lossless Future
A common justification by anti-net neutrality proponents is that “bandwidth hogs” (high-volume data consumers) are being subsidized by internet users who don’t use a lot of bandwidth. It’s pretty easy to start to pick apart those arguments – but the subtext is clear: many ISPs feel like people who use more data should have to pay more money. Unless, of course, they’re using a service that the ISP wants to subsidize.
This means that users and media providers will both start watching their bandwidth usage even further when using audio and video. Many producers and DJs have watched internet speeds skyrocket over the last 15 years and assumed that lossless audio playback would start to become standard in every application. But barring some drastic change in audio file optimization, any “lossless everywhere” campaign would be instantly snuffed out by pure data costs.
What Can You Do About It?
We’re usually a pretty apolitical force here at DJTT – we’re all united by our love for sharing music, and try not to get too controversial. But because DJTT was born on the internet, this seems like a very appropriate issue for us to urge you all to take action on.
If you’re in the U.S., there’s a few things you can do now (time is critical as the FCC is planning to vote in less than two weeks):
- write + call your representatives in Congress – Battle For The Net has a quick tool here
- attend a local protest in support of net neutrality
- amazingly, letters to the editor in local publications do seem to have an impact still on Congressional leaders. Consider writing something!
- share this article with your DJ and producer communities to get the word out
What impact do you imagine the end of net neutrality might have on musicians, DJs, producers, etc? Share your hypotheticals in the comments below.