Hollywood and Internet-for-All

Updated

The FCC is rolling out its National Broadband Plan this week, a framework that envisions high-speed Internet for all, with a use that extends far beyond entertainment to use in fighting climate change and reducing health care costs. And the Obama administration is anxious to show that this will be a central driver of jobs over the next decade, just as the rise of dial-up Internet and cellular was in the 1990s.

While broadcasters inevitably will have concerns over giving up spectrum to make the plan work (and to finance it), as well as the end of over-the-air television as we know it, Hollywood’s biggest immediate concern is piracy.

The fear is that, left unchecked, the roll out of ubiquitous broadband will mean an unstoppable cascade of copyright infringement, where downloading is ever easier and more widespread. (Paramount has been among the most vocal, having gone before the FCC to charge that piracy has moved from “geek to sleek” and that 5 million copies of “Star Trek” were downloaded by the end of August, when the pic was still in some theaters). That’s in part why the MPAA and other orgs have been ever-more-aggressive in pitching the importance of copyright as a source of jobs, with the highlight being Vice President Joseph Biden’s summit with studio heads and labor leaders last December.

Some consumer groups, like Public Knowledge, which has been a foe of the MPAA on a host of issues, warn that the plan shouldn’t give greater flexibility to the industry and Internet service providers to track down pirates, particularly through the use of filtering technologies, as it will be giving big media too much power to dictate what is to go online. And the Writers Guild of America, West, while supportive of such efforts as a “three-strikes” way of fighting Internet piracy, is markedly more cautious than other industry unions, expressing fears that independent creators will be at a disadvantage if studios and Internet providers have all the tools to fight piracy and independent creators do not.

The executive summary of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan is here.

Update: As expected, broadcasters are not thrilled with some of the provisions of the plan, including one to charge them fees for the excess spectrum they hold as a way to get them to give it up and put it up for auction.

Dennis Wharton, exec VP of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, released this statement:

“As the original wireless technology, broadcasters provide a ‘one-to-everyone’ communications service that provides news, entertainment and lifeline information to millions of Americans in daily life and times of crisis.

“We were pleased by initial indications from FCC members that any spectrum reallocation would be voluntary, and were therefore prepared to move forward in a constructive fashion on that basis. However, we are concerned by reports today that suggest many aspects of the plan may in fact not be as voluntary as originally promised. Moreover, as the nation’s only communications service that is free, local and ubiquitous, we would oppose any attempt to impose onerous new spectrum fees on broadcasters.

“Finally, we strongly support congressional efforts to conduct an inventory of all available spectrum, and believe that no reallocation plan should move forward without a complete accounting of how the airwaves are allocated, licensed and used.”

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