Opinion

Net Neutrality Is Crucial for Artists and Arts Organizations

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May 15, 2014 net neutrality rally at FCC headquarters in Washington, DC (photo by Stephen D. Melkisethian/Flickr)

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) closed its public comment period on the issue of net neutrality earlier this week, the agency counted more than 3 million comments, the greatest volume of such input in its history. The reactions had been pouring in since the process of deliberation opened to public comment on May 15, with the FCC soliciting public feedback in its consideration of whether to reclassify the internet as a telecommunications service, and preserve what has been called net neutrality — equal access for all users — or allow for fast and slow lanes governed to varying degrees by monied interests.

Arts organizations joined in with the multitude of citizen and interest-group respondents in standing up to the FCC. Regarding the Americans for the Arts’s submission of comment to the FCC, Kate McClanahan, director of federal affairs at the organization, wrote that blocking net neutrality would create “a stifling force on sharing new ideas and new, innovative platforms,” especially for the arts.

Americans for the Arts filed their brief along with over a dozen other cultural organizations on July 15. The document is quick to point the economic value of the arts, and its reliance on a neutral internet:

New modes and models for digital commerce are appearing every day — the open Internet drives these developments, and represents a meaningful way for us to participate in the digital-era economy. The emergence of a tiered Internet would deprive individual artists and arts organizations of the ability to benefit from online innovations while frustrating the growth of the legitimate digital marketplace.

Many arts organizations are responsible for collecting, preserving, and sharing cultural artifacts; the filing states that this effort would be greatly hindered by so-called internet “slow lanes.” While the web has been far from a magic wand for nourishing art practices, the filing states — and I agree — that the web has improved opportunities for many, and more diverse, artists to make a living. It has never been easier to find and celebrate quality artists outside of major cities and arts institutions.The filing adds, “In an era of consolidated corporate media, it is crucial that our creative communities are not disadvantaged as we advance and promote the diversity of expression that comprises American culture.”  That opportunity may diminish greatly should an internet fastlane be instituted.

The filing rests heavily on the economic value of a free and open internet, but there is much more to this discussion: “the open Internet allows artists of every background and discipline to participate in America’s cultural conversation, while bringing important creative expression to the public,” Americans for the Arts wrote. As more and more of our cultural production migrates online, this open structure becomes increasingly key to representing the diversity and breadth of creativity today. I shudder to imagine a world where the websites of only upper-class artists are visible on the cheapest version of the web. There is already too much socio-economic influence and filtering as it is.

Net neutrality is about how access to our society’s living archive should be governed. Do we want monied interests to be making that decision, or us, the users? The value of the web is how easy it is to share with anyone what we make; whether it’s a business, an artwork, or academic research. We have a long way to go before that ideal is reached, but allowing for fast and slow lanes would be a dramatic step backwards within the very architecture of the internet.

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