As supporters of a free and open Internet, we endorse the principle of net neutrality, the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Internet service providers, for example, should not be allowed to establish high-bandwidth “fast lanes” and charge higher rates for quicker delivery of information. Without net neutrality, the Internet could devolve into a pay-to-play hierarchy in which established digital players (Comcast, Amazon, Netflix, Google) could prioritize their own content at the expense of grassroots and independent services. The principle has sparked debate in recent months, but it’s nearing what we hope will be a positive conclusion.
Earlier this month, in response to a November request from the President, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed net neutrality rules that would reclassify Internet service providers (ISPs) as “telecommunication” services under Title II of the Communications Act (they are currently classified as “information” services). The reclassification would let the FCC place significantly more regulations on ISPs, thus ensuring net neutrality. The five-person panel of FCC commissioners is expected to vote on this proposal on February 26, 2015. Wheeler called the rules “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.”
At first glance, net neutrality might seem to be less of an issue for writers than for content creators like filmmakers and recording artists who rely on heavy bandwidth for the distribution of their works. On the contrary, we believe that authors have a greater stake than ever in ensuring an online environment that doesn’t favor the delivery of certain works at the expense of others.
Because net neutrality is fundamentally concerned with the equal distribution of information, Senator Al Franken is not exaggerating (well, okay, maybe just a little) when he calls it “the First Amendment issue of our time.” More than ever, authors are using all the information channels that are available—not just the printed page. New delivery systems are emerging and will continue to emerge. So we continue to advocate for an ecosystem in which author websites, blogs, independent publishers, and startups yet-to-be imagined will be able to operate without the risk of being stalled, sidelined, or crowded out by companies with deeper pockets.