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Neutralizing the Net: The WGA v. SAG and AFTRA

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The House of Representatives voted Thursday to block the Federal Communication Commission’s shiny new net neutrality rules. The House is, of course, dominated by Republicans, who tend to feel about regulations the way that Julie Taymor feels about safe workplace practices. The move came in the form of an amendment to a continuing resolution, and would block the FCC’s funding to enforce the new regulations. In case you were wondering what that democracy thing that the kids in the Middle East are so excited about looks like, this is it.

“We all want an open and thriving Internet,” Rep. Greg Walden (R.-Ore.), the amendment’s author, said in a statement. “That Internet exists today. Consumers can access anything they want with the click of a mouse thanks to our historical hands-off approach.”

Of course, the whole point of net neutrality regulation is to ensure that access to all Web content remains open and equal. But the rules that the FCC approved in December have taken fire from both sides of the aisle. Critics on the left have derided the measure as weak, pointing out that it allows broadband providers to slow or block certain content and charge customers different rates for different service levels. Critics on the right argue that it will send this country down a slippery, socialist slope that ends with a portrait of Chairman Mao hanging in every American living room.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have been cautious regarding net neutrality, emphasizing the need for any new regulations to include strict anti-piracy provisions and stopping short of endorsing the FCC’s action. The Writers Guild of America East and its West Coast counterpart have been far more vocal in support of far-reaching regulations.

“We are disappointed by the House vote to launch an indirect assault on net neutrality by means of an amendment to a spending bill,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said. “Without net neutrality, our members’ ability to create and distribute innovative content, and audiences’ ability to watch the content of their choice, will be severely diminished. We urge Congress to support net neutrality and not to block the FCC’s efforts to protect it.”

If the House amendment makes it through the Senate, it will likely be vetoed by President Obama. But it’s worth noting the difference between the Writers Guilds' stance and the one taken by SAG, AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, and the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, all of whom have been fairly quiet on the point in recent months. In a new-media world, piracy must be addressed; but critics have argued that union- and industry-favored measures to fight it, such as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, would be dangerous and ineffective. And as Peterson points out, an Internet in which corporate giants are left free to control the flow of content is one where innovation could be stifled—at a time when artists desperately need innovation in the ways their work is distributed. Piracy is an important issue, but it’s not the only issue.

Pictured: Mao Zedong (Photo: Getty Images)

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Comments

It's too bad the net neutrality issue is even on the floor. Protection of copyright and creativity is not its purpose.

That carrot is added to the measure in order to hide the stick. That is, I as a conservative American would be forced to limit my net choices and pay for the net to host the inanity and stupidity of the liberal left when it cannot support itself commercially.

It's too bad the net neutrality issue is even on the floor. Protection of copyright and creativity is not its purpose.

That carrot is added to the measure in order to hide the stick. That is, I as a conservative American would be forced to limit my net choices and pay for the net to host the inanity and stupidity of the liberal left when it cannot support itself commercially.

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