If the web loses net neutrality, independent musicians will lose their careers.
Net neutrality is one of the most important policy issues facing musicians.
So let me get this out of the way, right up front: “net neutrality” is a bad and not-descriptive term. Sorry. It’s what we’ve got. So what is net neutrality? Net neutrality is the idea that we treat all connections on the web equally.
“But I can pay for different speed tiers from my ISP,” you say. Great. Sure. Yes. But that’s the speed you’re buying, and everything you pull down to your browser gets to use as much of that speed as it can.
“But ISPs are talking about fast lanes for the internet. Aren’t fast lanes good for consumers?” Good question. I’m glad you asked. No, you stupid bastard. ISPs aren’t talking about fast lanes for you, they’re talking about fast lanes for corporations. Actually they’re not talking about providing fast lanes for anyone. They’re talking about making corporations pay more to access the speeds they have access to right now, and putting anyone that doesn’t pay into a slow lane like the New Jersey Turnpike on a perfect August beach day.
Trying to eliminate Title II regulation, the mechanism the FCC currently uses to make sure the web is handled like any other vital communication network, is essentially the new FCC Chairman saying “nice Internet you got there — it’d be a shame if something happened to it.”
At this point, you should already support keeping Title II net neutrality regulation but let’s dive deeper just in case.
“I’m real dumb. Like GOP congressperson level stupid. Could you explain why the digital protection racket you describe is bad for musicians?” Holy fuck. Fine. So imagine for a second a musician sells their own digital music — on their website, on Bandcamp, wherever. iTunes is riding in that fast lane. Spotify? Probably. But Bandcamp? The musician’s website? They’re more like a rusty BMX pulling a three-wheeled Radio Flyer wagon over a cracked sidewalk.
When someone buys digital music from an artist directly they’ll see long, slow downloads that hopefully manage to finish. When they stream music from that same musician’s site it’ll hang and pause unless it’s compressed to hell. But when that same person buys from iTunes? Smooth like butter.
Some fans will put up with the frustrating experience of buying direct from an artist because they know it’s better for them, but that’s not everyone. Expect direct-to-fan artist businesses to migrate to iTunes and Google. Without Title II net neutrality the web is just a battle of media titans with musicians caught in the crossfire. Artists who don’t sign everything over to big labels or plan to sell only through the biggest outlets will be hurt. The independent music world will be fundamentally changed. We’ve moved to a digital world. That isn’t going to change. Killing Title II net neutrality makes it even harder for independent musicians to survive in a digital landscape.
I know it’s hard to care about a fight that looks like it’s being fought between big money tech and ISPs. But let me be crystal clear: net neutrality is a vital policy fight that musicians can’t afford to lose. If you are a musician you need to care about it. Your livelihood is at stake.