Net Neutrality Pits Time Warner Against tUnE‐yArDs

The jockeying ahead of a vote at the Federal Communications Commission on net neutrality is heating up -- and now it's pitting big cable conglomerates against indie entertainers.

On Tuesday, two groups released dueling letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on his draft plan for the future of the Internet. On one side: executives from broadband providers like AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, and Verizon. On the other: a rag-tag coalition of songwriters, actors and filmmakers.

"The Internet has enabled artists to connect directly with each other and with audiences. It has eliminated the barriers of geography and taken collaborations to new levels. And it has allowed people -- not corporations -- to seek out the film, music and art that moves them," wrote the entertainers, who include Fred Armisen, Neko Case, Neutral Milk Hotel, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., Oliver Stone, tUnE‐yArDs, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

"Allowing broadband providers to control this once‐open platform shifts power away from individual artists and creators and interferes with freedom of speech and expression," the group wrote.

The performers expressed opposition to Wheeler's new proposal covering net neutrality -- or the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The FCC's original rules imposing net neutrality were struck down by a court in January, and Wheeler's plan to revise them would let broadband companies charge websites like Netflix for faster streaming and download times. Such a "fast lane" has long been opposed by net neutrality advocates.

The executives on the other side, meanwhile, have decidedly fewer indie credentials but much more money to spend on lobbying. In their letter, they warn against any step the FCC might take to reclassify their companies as public utilities like water or electricity, which would allow the commission to enforce regulations against online discrimination.

Wheeler will reportedly present an initial plan to the FCC for a vote on Thursday that would allow the public to comment on whether reclassification is necessary to protect the free flow of information on the Internet. And just the notion that Wheeler might ask for comment has the industry worried.

"An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of 'Government may I?' requests from American entrepreneurs," assert the companies in their letter.

Reclassification, they warn, would generate "years -- if not decades -- of endless litigation and debate."

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