Of all the public policy issues relating to the intersection of arts and technology, arguably none is more important and vital to our continued freedom and success than net neutrality. A slew of recent changes and lawsuits have the potential to fundamentally change the way we use the internet, and the arts community stands to be greatly impacted. The idea behind net neutrality is simple: keeping the internet open and treating all data equally. The word “neutrality” means strictly that: whether you are searching for information on Google, streaming video on Netflix or using social networking tools, all of those data “packets” are treated equally and allowed to proceed at the same speed. This is the very idea of the “open internet” that so many in the arts community advocate and support, and it has helped foster innovation and evolution in many different fields, including the arts.
Many of the projects we have highlighted here on the blog in the past week, including art.sy, the Google Art Project and the Tate Trumps iPhone app, are made possible in part because of the freedom that net neutrality provides. Whether it’s an artist finding new outlets for their creativity, using the internet to connect buyers and sellers, or arts organizations using social media to find new fans, the increasing merger between the arts and technology communities is absolutely dependent on the idea that the internet should be free, open and neutral. Doing away with the concept, or diminishing that freedom, would have a severe negative impact on the arts community.
Thankfully, some recent changes have been put into place to strengthen net neutrality. Recent regulations approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are set to take effect November 20, 2011. These regulations include prohibiting broadband providers from blocking lawful web traffic, requiring a greater deal of transparency from broadband providers regarding their network practices, and, most importantly, requiring that broadband providers not discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over consumers’ internet service. You can read more about the new regulations on the FCC’s openinternet.gov website.
While the regulations are not perfect, and do not go as far as many open internet advocates would have liked (for example, there is still some ambiguity regarding the regulations surrounding wireless networks, which the FCC claims is a newer technology and requires more time to appropriately measure how much regulation is required), they are a welcome step in the right direction.
Before we get to November 20 however, several lawsuits have been filed in the past few months, seeking to block these regulations. And to no one’s surprise, it has been the telecommunications companies that have sought to block the regulations from being put into place, while at the same time claiming that they are the true parties interested in keeping the internet “open.”
The most recent lawsuit comes from Verizon, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country, who are claiming that while they are committed to an open and secure internet, they object to what they call “sweeping” regulations that apply to the entire telecommunications industry. This is not the first time Verizon has filed suit against the new regulations; they also sought to remove the new regulations earlier this year, but the case was thrown out in April because the regulations were not published in the Federal Register until this past August.
The lawsuit is pending, and whatever decision is reached by the courts will have a lasting impact on the future of internet freedom. Even if the FCC and open internet advocates prevail, the fight by the telecom companies against the new regulations will surely continue, as they seek to continue their years-long crusade against the open internet and restrict whatever types of internet data they see fit.
We here at Technology for the Arts have long advocated for net neutrality and communicated why we feel the issue is of vital importance, and as the fight over the open internet heats up, it’s important that when we talk about issues of arts advocacy and what issues are at the top of our agenda, that we include net neutrality. While the recent regulations approved by the FCC are a welcome step forward, there is a still a lot of work to be done to make sure that the future of the internet remains open and neutral. You can find out more about net neutrality at openinternet.gov, and we encourage you to share the information with others in the arts community.
The arts community has long benefitted from net neutrality, and the continued innovation we have seen in recent years is dependent on it staying that way.
(Photo: CC by markrabo)