New rules would preserve open Internet

Hollywood studios, record labels and labor unions on Thursday officially weighed in on the FCC’s proposed new rules to preserve an open Internet, pressing the government to allow enough flexibility to fight piracy.

Their filings come on the final day of an open comment period for the new rules — commonly referred to as “net neutrality.” The most contentious among them is a “nondiscrimination clause” that would bar Internet service providers from favoring one Website over another, such as preferred treatment via speedier service to consumers.

That rule in particular has come with a great deal of skepticism — and in some cases outright opposition — from satellite and telecom companies who provide Internet service, and are bristling at the government taking a greater policing role in how they manage Web traffic. In its filing, Comcast questioned the need for any rules unless the FCC could gather evidence of any “actual — not conjectural — harms” that would be solved by the restrictions. It even questioned the commission’s authority to impose them.

By contrast, Hollywood studios outlined a much more measured approach to the proposals.

In its filing, the MPAA expressed satisfaction that the FCC’s proposals provide leeway to Internet service providers, like cable and telecom companies, to “take action to counter unwanted or harmful traffic” and to “decline to carry traffic if the transfer of content is prohibited by law, including copyright law.”

The MPAA urged the FCC to “make clear” that Internet providers “are not only permitted, but encouraged, to work with content owners to employ the best available tools and technologies to combat online content theft.” This includes what is called “graduated response” methods, in which repeat infringers are warned that they risk consequences, such as a shutdown of their service, if they continue to violate the law.

But the MPAA expressed concerns that the “non-discrimination” rule not be so onerous as to stifle innovation and investment.

The studios stated that they agree with the FCC that Internet providers “should not be permitted to engage in demonstrably anti-competitive acts,” such as favoring their own services and content, a possibility that has been raised with Comcast’s proposed purchase of NBC Universal.

Yet they urged the FCC to ensure that the rules “allow content owners the ability to work with network providers to develop and maintain content delivery services that will delight consumers and fuel economic growth.”

One of the studios’ concerns has been that the rules allow them to work with Internet providers to offer such things as high definition video, noting that the FCC has acknowledged that such endeavors “may require enhanced quality of service to work well.”

Content owners are assuming significant risks as they transform their analog delivery models into digital models and embrace online delivery,” the MPAA stated. “It would be harmful to the potential development of this marketplace and injurious to consumers if digital content delivery cannot be provided with the same level of quality consumers have come to expect from offline media like Blu-ray and DVD.”

In its filing, the Recording Industry Assn. of America expressed some similar sentiments, urging the FCC to “ensure that its open Internet rules do not have a chilling effect on” an Internet provider’s anti-piracy efforts. Mitch Bainwol, the chairman and CEO of the RIAA, said in a statement that they “foresee a future where [Internet providers] are our partners, enabling new business models and delivering new content to fans in way unimaginable today.” He added that they “hope that any final rules established by the FCC reflect this forward-thinking reality.”

A coalition of union and guilds, including AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, IATSE and the Screen Actors Guild, made a joint filing in which they said that the FCC “has an opportunity to greatly improve the odds for combating online theft of our members’ work.”

They added that Internet providers should be permitted to “use all available tools in a competitively neutral manner to detect and prevent illegal downloading of copyrighted works.”

Noticeably absent from the labor coalition, however, was the Writers Guild of America, which has made separate filings to the FCC in recent months. While concerned about fighting piracy, the guild has expressed concerns that the exceptions for rooting out copyright infringement may be so broad as to give an advantage to content produced by major media congloms.

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