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R.E.M. and Net Neutrality

Frank Ahrens

It's hard to make net neutrality sexy. Sure, it affects everyone -- will access to the Internet remain free or will companies be allowed to erect toll booths for entry? It's important stuff and the minute that the 'Net no longer is free, and users wonder why their favorite Web page is loading slowly and it's because it hasn't paid a fee to the Internet service provider for faster access, boy howdy, will people start to care.

But right now, when such a scenario seems vague and far away, and people actually are using phrases like "net neutrality" in Congress, then zzzzzz.....

So to get folks riled up about the issue, the Future of Music Coalition -- an advocacy group of musicians that fought radio consolidation -- is assembling a lineup of name bands, such as R.E.M. and Death Cab for Cutie, to join the fight to keep the net neutral.

The group will join net neutrality advocate Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) for a teleconference today to kick off the campaign, which is called "Rock the Net ." The campaign will include a petition and a series of concerts. The coalition fears that if companies are allowed to charge for faster access to the Internet, it will hurt the ability of musicians to get their music out to their fans, especially small, indie bands.

By Frank Ahrens  |  March 27, 2007; 6:00 AM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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As far as I am concerned, Net Nuetrality (NN) means: cool, new, interesting sites will be loaded just as fast as bloated, boring, "informationally irrelevent" sites (such as or

I use Flickr A LOT. Although now a subsidiary of Yahoo!, I am not sure if it would be as fast if NN weren't to pass; it is almost completely ad-free.

Posted by: Dan | March 27, 2007 8:06 AM

I understand a lot about the Internet, having been Internet Services Administrator for many years for a major technology-driving government agency, but I'm not sure I understand "Net Neutrality." Don't get me wrong... I LIKE the idea of equal access for everyone, but take my own ISP, for instance. I am with Bright House Networks and use their RoadRunner service. It is offered at three levels of service, "Lite," "Standard," and "Premium," offering downstream speeds 512K, 7MB and 10MB speed at progressively increasing charges to the customer. It seems that this is NOT "Net Neutrality" and is precisely what is being opposed by those who favor Net Neutrality, albeit only on a personal scale. Am I wrong?

Posted by: Woody Smith | March 27, 2007 8:34 AM

I hope REM plays 'Don't Go Back to Rockville', 'Driver 8', and 'Perfect Circle'. Those old songs totally rock. Reminds me of buying used LPs at Wuxtry and Wax and Facts Records. That should show those Net Neutrality hating SOBs.

Posted by: ThingsThatShine | March 27, 2007 8:50 AM

Woody -- the thing you're missing is that as things currently stand, the consumer pays for their net access (which is largely download traffic) and the content provider (whether that's Google, Yahoo, MS, or someone smaller like twitter, or even your favorite self-hosted blog) pays for their net access -- they're paying to push data to you via the net -- and the content that passes in either direction is irrelevant. You're right -- you're paying for your connection speed.

So what happens when your ISP decides that anything sent to you from Microsoft can be sent at the full speed you're paying for, but content from Google only goes at half that speed -- even though you and Google are both paying to be on the 'net at specific speeds? And then your ISP tells Google that if they want their content to be as fast as Microsoft's, they're going to have to pay extra to the ISP? It actually sounds a lot like radio payola -- "We'll play your record when you pay us to play it." And we know that's illegal.

Posted by: jburka | March 27, 2007 9:31 AM


In your situtation, you are paying for a specific access speed. Net neutrality is making sure that your provider doesn't say " pay me an extra $50 a month or we throttle sites that we want to throttle"

See for some good articles on this topic. Specifically

Posted by: lonebear | March 27, 2007 9:39 AM

How true are the claims from Verizon and Comcast that if net neutrality becomes the law, they will not be hampered in their ability to innovate new technology?

Posted by: Laurence | March 27, 2007 10:24 AM

I don't think that we have a right to free goods and services. Do those musicians who advocate free access to the Internet, also support free access to their music?

Don't we all have to get paid?

Posted by: Susan | March 27, 2007 10:31 AM

I think it is popular, but freakin' paranoid, to be a Cassandra about this. I have been using the internet since before it became synonymous with the world wide web. Many lazy people have become rich by sponging off the robust open infrastructure.

Internet traffic is just like any other traffic. ISPs want to pass more cost of traffic to sellers. If net neutrality becomes a law, God help us, then look for ISPs, as available bandwith begins to shrink, to be more scrupulous about rationing bandwith to their customers, and charging them more.

Think about if ISPs were to decide to charge explicitly by the amount of data transferred. I reckon some mechanism for companies to allow "toll free" access would come into existence--they foot the bill. This could be the model tomorrow, and net neutrality would not even an issue. And it would suck.

I implore everybody to think about this issue a little less foolishly. I feel that shifting more costs onto Internet billionaires is a good thing. I cannot fathom why so many people have been brainwashed into thinking otherwise.

Posted by: joe | March 27, 2007 10:37 AM

I'm not sure I understand what will happen to individuals who have websites. I have a website on my friend's server. does that mean he has to pay extra to all ISPs if he wants his sites to download as fast as the corporate sites? if so, how much more and is this something that can be incorporated into server costs?

Posted by: SR | March 27, 2007 10:40 AM

I feel that shifting more costs onto Internet billionaires is a good thing.

What a joke. The issue isn't internet billionaires paying more, the issue is rent-seeking behavior from infrastructure companies. A few privledged content providers get super-fast speeds and everyone else gets hosed.

It's a big flippin' shoehorn to collapse the vast majority of internet traffic into a vastly smaller web of corporate garbage.

It stinks to high heaven, and you're probably representing a PR firm paid by the music industry to perpetuate this POV.

Many lazy people have become rich by sponging off the robust open infrastructure.

Game and match. Whereas Anti-net-neutrality people would rather have only the cable networks become rich from here on out. Much flippin' better. Create a nice system of escalating fees based on level of traffic, so that only rich people can afford to have high-volume websites from here on out. Yeah, wonderful idea. You're excused.

Posted by: glasnost | March 28, 2007 9:38 AM

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