Guild says cable-telecoms shouldn't limit content to consumers

The Writers Guild of America, East is urging the FCC to pass a series of proposed new rules that will prevent cable and telecom companies from restricting or limiting access to Internet sites and other content as they deliver service to consumers.

Digital technology presents a vast range of possibilities to content creators and consumers alike, and it would be a tragedy to squeeze all of that into a narrow commercial band,” The WGAE states a a filing to the FCC. Without the rules, the guild argues, “a relatively small number of major institutions might also come to control access to content on the Internet — big studios, network providers, or application and service providers.”

The FCC is considering a set of six rules, commonly called “net neutrality,” which has ignited a vigorous debate in Washington that has pitted Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast, which have opposed the new standards and fear that it will inhibit their ability to manage and enhance their networks, against the likes of Google, Website creators and some consumer groups, who fear that the Internet could one day resemble something akin to cable TV. The concern is that Internet service providers could give favored treatment to certain sites and services that pay for speedier delivery — or even block sites that it deems competition — and shut out less well-heeled content creators.

Otherwise it is almost certain that most of the content consumers view will be produced by a relative handful of major entities — just as it is now in television and film,” the WGAE stated.

The FCC has set a deadline of Jan. 14 for an initial comment period on the proposed rules. The Writers Guild of America, West has expressed similar concerns to the FCC in recent filing on a related proposal for a national plan for broadband.

Via the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Hollywood studios have yet to officially chime in, but in their quest to fight piracy have already expressed satisfaction that FCC specified that the proposed rules apply only to legal content, and not copyright infringement. But there is some concern that a “non-discrimination” rule — preventing an Internet service provider from favoring one site or another — could be so broad as to inhibit efforts to launch new ventures.

Nevertheless, the WGAE says that the proposed merger of NBC Universal into Comcast underscores the sense of urgency in getting the new rules in place. “Comcast will have a powerful incentive to use pricing to favor its own content,” the guild stated.

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