The world’s biggest media companies want to define how people will get content over the Internet. Money talks; independent content creators: take a walk. A mega-deal is reportedly in the works in which Verizon will favor Internet content from Google because Google has the spare cash to pay for preferred access. And this is being touted as the model for how content providers and Internet service providers will do business. We have seen the future, and it is exactly like the past.
The Writers Guild of America, East, AFL-CIO represents people who write, edit, produce, and create graphics for television, film, radio, and digital media. Our members write television drama, comedy, news, and public interest programs; they write movies for major studios and for independents; they create original content for the web, for mobile applications, and for other digital platforms. Our members know first-hand how an open Internet permits them to create more innovative, informative content and to distribute it directly to the public.
The Internet and other digital media offer an unprecedented opportunity for creators to reach consumers and for people to watch and read what they want, when they want. This is very different from traditional media in which major studios, distributors, and television networks control the flow of movies and programs. Digital technology presents a vast range of possibilities to content creators and consumers alike, and it would be a tragedy to squeeze all of that into a narrow commercial band. But that is exactly what will happen if the Federal Communications Commission and Congress permit the Verizon-Google deal to become the blueprint for the digital future.
If one of our members had written the Verizon-Google deal into a script, it would have been rejected as too obvious, too heavy-handed. At the height of the nation’s debate about net neutrality, two of the biggest players in the industry blow the entire concept to smithereens by discriminating against certain content providers in favor of those with the deepest pockets. Now the Internet will resemble television and the movies: completely dominated by a handful of multinational conglomerates that decide what the public will watch based, not on the quality of the programming, but on the margin of profit. Verizon falls easily into the role of villain; Google becomes the feckless sell-out. We could have written it ourselves, but no one would have bought the story.
And this movie has a prequel: The proposed merger of Comcast (the other mega-ISP) and NBC Universal (quintessential television network and studio). Comcast the content distributor will have a huge economic incentive to discriminate in favor of the content it creates as a studio and television network.
Let’s write a different ending to this story. The FCC and Congress can ensure that the American people have access to a wide array of independently-produced programs that entertain and enlighten, that present the whole spectrum of our diverse opinions and experiences and cultures. We do not have to allow Verizon, Comcast, Google, and NBCU to divide up the digital pie amongst themselves.
Lowell Peterson is the Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East.