Hollywood split on FCC's Internet plan

Hollywood’s split over the net neutrality issue was on full display Thursday, as the Writers Guild of America West voiced support for an FCC proposal to establish its authority over the Internet while Hollywood’s studio lobby and four other unions all but declared themselves opposed to the move.

The issue involves an FCC plan to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service” (called “Title II” in bureaucratic jargon) — a move that could make clear the commission’s regulatory powers.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski proposed such a move in May, after the FCC lost a legal showdown to Comcast, raising major doubts about its authority to regulate the Internet. An appellate court had ruled that the FCC didn’t have proper legal standing when it sanctioned Comcast for slowing the BitTorrent service to its users.

Cable and telecom companies oppose the FCC’s effort to reclassify, as do a significant number of lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill. Genachowski says his proposal will be limited in scope to guard against “regulatory overreach.”

One of Hollywood’s chief concerns over net neutrality — or rules that would require Internet providers treat all content equally — is there be flexibility to allow for fighting piracy.

In a filing to the FCC on Thursday, the MPAA — along with the American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America and IATSE — said it fears a reclassification will create a type of “regulatory uncertainty” in which Internet providers devote fewer resources to fight-ing piracy. The concern is that such a move will trigger more lawsuits and years of litigation.

The MPAA and the unions cited the opposition to reclassification from such Internet providers as the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn. and AT&T, calling them “the very parties whose cooperation is needed to implement content protection measures online.”

“Title II regulation may chill their efforts to do so,” they said.

Should the FCC reclassify, they said, the commission should “clearly state” that Internet providers are able to use the “best available tools and technologies to detect and prevent the unauthorized distribution of content that is protected by copyright.”

But the WGAW, while saying rules should be crafted requiring Internet providers to police piracy, expressed concerns that detection and prevention tools do not “infringe on free speech or the right to privacy.”

The guild worries filtering could slow or block legal content or create barriers to entry for independent producers if Internet providers are given too much leeway to fight piracy.

“Under the guise of network management, we could experience commercially motivated censorship,” the guild said in a separate filing.

The WGAW argued that the lack of reclassification is what will create “regulatory uncertainty, and would leave the FCC unable to protect the Internet.” It expressed concern “that, under the guise of providing high quality of service to its customers, the dominant media companies want the ability to create a preferential lane for Internet traffic.”

Although net neutrality has been the subject of lobbying on all fronts, WGAW’s prexy, John Wells, will have the opportunity to make the case to a key figure Monday. President Obama will be at his home for a fund-raiser to support the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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