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WGA West: FCC Plan for Net Neutrality Would ‘Surrender’ Internet to Major Conglomerates

Variety logo Variety 4/26/2017 Ted Johnson
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The Writers Guild of America West is in the midst of negotiations for a new contract, but it did weigh in on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan for net neutrality.

In a statement, the guild said that the plan would “undermine” the existing rules and “surrender control of the Internet to a handful of corporations.”

“The current rules, which reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, are supported by millions of Americans and have been upheld in court,” the guild said. “They have protected the Internet from anticompetitive actions by Internet service providers. These rules have allowed more independent and diverse programming to flourish, providing new creative and economic opportunities for writers and choices for consumers. As content creators and free speech advocates, we stand by the rules because they provide the best protection for the free and open Internet.”

The guild was a champion of the FCC’s move in 2015 to reclassify the internet as a common carrier. That regulatory maneuver provided the legal underpinning to pass a strong set of rules that prevent internet service providers from discriminating against the type of content they deliver to their subscribers. For example, Comcast can’t slow down the content from one of its rivals, like Netflix, to give an advantage to TV shows and movies it owns, like those from NBCUniversal.

The WGAW’s statement is not a surprise. Among all the guilds, it was the most adamant in pushing for the rules in 2015 and is likely to be so in opposing Pai’s moves.

Hollywood studios, meanwhile, were largely silent on the issue when it came before the FCC two years ago. Some executives privately said that they would prefer that the FCC impose light regulation over the internet.

Netflix, which was a major advocate for net neutrality rules in the 2015 debate, issued a statement in its earnings report in January, saying that any move to weaken net neutrality was “unlikely to materially affect our domestic margins or service quality because we are now popular enough with consumers to keep our relationships with ISPs stable.” In other words, were ISPs to slow Netflix traffic, they would hear a consumer outcry.

“On a public policy basis, however, strong net neutrality is important to support innovation and smaller firms,” Netflix said in January. “No one wants ISPs to decide what new and potentially disruptive services can operate over their networks, or to favor one service over another.”

What is unclear is what kind of a role Netflix will play in the coming public policy battle. It is a member of the Internet Association, which said in a statement on Wednesday, “Rolling back these rules or reducing the legal sustainability of the Order will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online.”

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