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Rocking the House at Future of Music with Comedy, the FCC and Net Neutrality

in Net Neutrality by

By Rachel Sanford, Special Correspondent,

WASHINGTON, October 14, 2009 – Net neutrality emerged as a major theme at the Future of Music Coalition conference last week at Georgetown University here, with speeches on the subject by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., who described the Internet as the modern town square.

During the summit’s first day, coalition Director Michael Bracy identified broadband, broadband deployment and Net neutrality as among the major policy issues facing musicians today.

Broadband deployment was an issue, he said, because it was necessary to facilitate the creation of a legitimate digital marketplace for music.

Furthermore, access to music is a reason that the average person uses broadband technology. Bracy also highlighted Net neutrality because of the relationship between net neutrality and the unlawful distribution of content.

On the second day of the event, Franken and Genachowski each addressed Net neutrality.

Senator Franken identified net neutrality as a vital issue and referred to the Internet as a modern town square. Because of Franken’s notion of the Internet as the modern town square, the government must make sure that the Internet stays neutral, he said, requiring everyone to start at the same starting line.

Franken said he doesn’t support internet service providers offering prioritized internet service to companies who can pay and, in his view, this turns the Internet into a pay-for-play arena made up of separate and unequal networks.

Additionally, he said, censorship issues arise when ISPs may decide the kind of speech that moves over their networks. This is the 21st century iteration of free speech, and free speech limited or free speech delayed is the same as free speech denied, he said.

Franken mixed his comedy with his policy. When an audience member challenged him on whether there was a conflict between policing piracy and enforcing Net neutrality, he said that that was a technology issue either above or below his pay grade – because he does not know how much technical geniuses get paid.

Genachowski’s keynote address focused on the essential openness of the Internet, as well as the impact of the digital divide.

After introduced by Bracy and escorted the stage by the band Bonarama, Genachowski began his speech by using titles of Bruce Springsteen songs to describe the FCC’s stance on preserving an open Internet.

Genachowski also urged conference participants to visit, and offered statistics about the perils of the digital divide – the most striking one of which was that 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies list their jobs online exclusively.

Genachowski used that statistic of an example why broadband deployment and net neutrality are vital policy issues in this current economic crisis.

He also praised musicians who recognized the importance of the open Internet, stating that in today’s broadband world, artists themselves can be self-empowering because they are free to connect with audiences, paying customers, and musical social networks in ways previously unimaginable.

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Rachel is a third year law student at The Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America where she is a member of the Institute for Communications Law Studies. She also has a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Seton Hall University. Rachel was formerly a summer intern in the Office of Policy Analysis and Development at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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