Music After the End of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality–the concept that data on the Internet should be treated equally by governments, ISPs and corporations–is in trouble.  Recent developments seem to indicate that we’re moving into an era where we might end up getting charged differently for accessing certain content.  It’s not the price of the content itself we’re talking about here; it’s the act of just accessing it.

This, obviously, could have huge repercussions (see this chart for a nightmare scenario that explains everything).  And that includes music. takes a look at some possibilities:

Years ago, I believed experts who said Net Neutrality wasn’t a big deal because it A) It never existed in the first place (because many ISPs prioritize traffic in some way, say, for or against online gaming), and B) The free market would solve the problem, because ISPs that threw up bad content roadblocks would be abandoned.B) is no longer true. There’s almost no competition for ISPs. Everyone knows this, but I reallyknow it right now, because I am moving and only have one option for non-satellite internet: the regional cable provider. They can do whatever they want to my connection, because I have nowhere else to go. They never have to answer my phonecalls, and they can degrade my service as much as they want. This is the case almost everywhere these days, even in big cities, due to tremendous concentration in the ISP business over the past 20 years. 

As for A), well, it looks like we’re going to find out what happens when ISPs can be more open about doing whatever they want to any kind of traffic, for any reason, because we seem to have decided that the internet isn’t a public utility like the phone lines through which some of it runs. To some, this means the internet will be broken. Net Neutrality has been struck down (here’s the best explanation we’ve seen), and if the FCC tries to save it, according to Susan Crawford, the expert cited by Re/Code (she declined to respond to a query for this piece), Republicans have sworn to dismantle the FCC.

So it’s looking like the internet might become a lot more like cable television, with only a few main channels dominating, because smaller entities won’t be able to pay ISPs to present their content — especially video or real-time applications — the way the big media companies will.

We’ll leave the rest of the philosophical, political, and economic implications of this to the rest of the internet, because people are talking about this everywhere, and focus instead on the music implications. So, what would an open, sanctioned lack of Net Neutrality do to the music apps and services that consumers seem to love, and which are only just getting started in terms of penetrating the mainstream? Here are some possibilities, implications, and observations:

Continue reading.  This scares the shit out of me.

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