Head of WGA West on Why Hollywood Needs Net Neutrality

Eric Garcetti Film Production Flight
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The battle for an open Internet continues to gain allies. This weekend a proposal in support of net neutrality backed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the mayors of San Francisco, Seattle and Tucson will be considered by the U.S. Conference of Mayors at its annual meeting in Dallas. It’s no surprise that cable companies and telecoms are lobbying hard to defeat the measure, but regardless of the outcome it’s clear that the fight will continue.

Mr. Garcetti and his fellow mayors have joined what has amounted to a populist uprising against an attempted power grab of the Internet by companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Verizon. The mayors’ proposal urges the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. This position is fully supported by consumer groups, free speech advocates, and the Writers Guild of America, West.

A reclassification of broadband would appropriately recognize that the Internet is like your phone line. Just as the FCC mandates telecoms must allow you to call whomever you want, reclassifying Internet access would give the FCC regulatory power to protect your freedom to choose any legal content you want to see online.

Why have mayors who represent almost 6 million people added their voices to the debate? It’s simple. Since the invention of the printing press, no single technological advancement has had a greater impact on free speech than the Internet. It is also a platform for innovation, transforming how we communicate, consume media and learn. It has increased consumer choice and viewpoint diversity and made markets more competitive and efficient. Eighty seven percent of Americans are now online. eCommerce generated $263 billion in sales in the U.S. in 2013. This has all been made possible by an open Internet, where content, applications and services are treated equally.

There is no question about the importance of net neutrality to the entertainment industry in the Los Angeles region. The growth of online video distribution, made possible by an open Internet, helps fuel the local economy, accounting for 165,000 jobs and $77.6 billion in total economic output. Streaming audio and video now represent 67% of Internet traffic during peak periods. Online video revenue has almost doubled in the last four years, growing from $1.75 billion to $5.12 billion. Analysts project that digital home entertainment revenue from streaming services and electronic sales will surpass DVD sales and rentals by 2018. The Internet is the future of our industry.

The Internet has also opened the media business to new competition for the first time in decades. That’s why 245 television series creators and showrunners recently signed a letter imploring the FCC to use its authority to keep the Internet free and open. New television-length series created for the Internet, including Hulu’s East Los High and Amazon’s Bosch are being filmed in Los Angeles, bucking an ongoing trend that has seen production lured away by out-of-state incentives.

The prospects for maintaining the vitality of this incredible resource are now in question. Self-policing conglomerates will not protect an open Internet. Absent strong regulation and effective competition, Internet service providers will act in their own self interest and maximize profits through practices that harm content creators and consumers.

The FCC reports that almost one-third of the country has only one choice for true high speed Internet. Four companies control 68% of the broadband market. That number goes down to three if the proposed Comcast – Time Warner Cable merger is approved. With so little competition and so much at stake, it is clear that regulation to keep the market free of monopoly behavior is necessary. If the Internet is not reclassified, a few corporate gatekeepers will be allowed to decide what content is available to the American people. Internet service providers such as Comcast have already acted to limit openness, by interfering with consumer access to the content of their choice and imposing discriminatory data caps that apply to online video services that compete with the company’s own video product. Weak Net Neutrality rules that rely on shaky legal authority will only allow this behavior to progress, and discriminatory practices such as paid prioritization are sure to follow.

While reclassification is not the stated preference of FCC Chairman Wheeler, the Commission has left the option on the table and is currently soliciting public opinion. That’s why it is so vital that future-thinking elected leaders, like Mayor Garcetti and his counterparts, have lent their support to this important fight.