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Dueling Hollywood voices over Net neutrality

August 12, 2010 |  5:43 pm

There's nothing like an obscure regulatory issue to expose a rift in Hollywood's ranks.

The issue in question is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposed "Third Way" -- reclassifying broadband Internet access as a "communications service," which would subject it to greater federal regulation. The point is to give the FCC authority to issue Net neutrality rules, among other guidelines for broadband.

On one side of the debate -- the side generally taken by DSL and cable-modem providers -- are the Motion Picture Assn. of America and four talent unions: the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild Of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees and the Screen Actors Guild. They argue that reclassifying broadband would be a terrible idea because it would discourage ISPs from "detecting and impeding" piracy.

On the other side is the Writers Guild of America West, which argues that reclassifying broadband is essential to preserving Net neutrality and not inconsistent with protecting copyrights. To the Writers Guild, Net neutrality is crucial because it protects small content creators from being squeezed out by, well, the MPAA's members.

The two sides filed new comments with the FCC on Thursday, and it's worth reading both just for the contrast in their focuses. (You can download the MPAA/union filing here and the Writers Guild filing here.) The main point for the MPAA and its allies is stopping online piracy and imposing the lightest regulatory burden possible on broadband providers. For the Writers Guild, concerns about piracy are balanced against a desire for maximizing outlets for their work. While the major studios in the MPAA may like the idea of paying broadband providers for superior access to Internet users, the Writers Guild sees such online toll lanes as a threat to their ability to compete online.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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