Independent Film & Television Alliance president Jean Prewitt says that content protection and network neutrality are not mutually exclusive. She has been in Washington recently to help educate the Hill and Federal Communications Commission about her members’ concerns with potential vertical integration on the Internet — including raising some red flags about a potential melding of Comcast and NBC Universal — and to draw distinctions between her constituency and the major Hollywood studios. Prewitt, whose contract was extended over the summer through 2012, talked to Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton about the importance of the network-neutrality proposal to the future of her members, who produce and distribute independent TV and films.
MCN: What is your take on the commission’s network-neutrality proposal?
Jean Prewitt: Those of us who are in favor of government action on network neutrality thought this was an important first step by the Genachowski commission.
I am actually startled at how thorough and extensive it is, given how recently the new chairman was confirmed. It is a tremendously detailed notice which includes with it the proposed rules that they would like to put forward. In and of itself, that is a tremendous achievement, because it sets the ground pretty well for the filings and discussions that now have to take place.
MCN: There is not too much of the three-handed economist in this, given the length of the process, the lack of presumptive conclusions and the request for everyone to weigh in?
JP: Clearly, that is all going to happen. But they started out proposing to add the two principles IFTA has always advocated, which are transparency and nondiscrimination. So, from the standpoint of our interests, they started from the point we wanted them to be.
That said, when you go through it, they say, and we noticed in their phrasing, that a lot of the issue here is going to be where you strike the balance. They seem to have gone way, way, way, very far to say, and this is my translation, that no one is going to walk away saying they got a 100% win.
It is all going to be about everyone coming together and trying to adjust the interests of the parties.
MCN: And what are your interests specifically?
JP: The things we care about include the strong emphasis that the protections of net neutrality only apply to legal content and legal transmission. I had not thought that was in doubt after the Comcast proceedings, but there has been a continuing concern from other members of the entertainment industry that they wanted that emphasized and so, that clearly was emphasized.
What is wide open is what will be permissible in the context of network neutrality in terms of identifying illegal content and having it taken down. And we’re all going to have quite a lot to say about the assumptions involved in that, who needs to be involved, if you got to an industry or a technological solution. This is the opening day.
MCN: But your interest is not just protecting against piracy. It is also to advocate for more access to your content.
JP: Our position has been that we don’t have to choose between open access and piracy protection. The original formulas, which really came from the [bigger Hollywood studios] and, to some degree, the [recording industry], was that open access means you tolerate piracy and therefore we, as the entertainment industry, must be against net neutrality. That is not a formula we’ve ever subscribed to.
Access is tremendously important to us. As you know, we have gone down this road about media consolidation and vertical integration and what it’s done to the traditional media.
Two days before this notice came out, the rumors started that Comcast was looking to buy NBC Universal. I think that that validated the concern we started with, which is that vertical integration will migrate to the Internet, and net neutrality and the promise of open access have to be part of the framework of legal protection before those kinds of consolidations and mergers set the ground rules, by virtue of how the private parties want to deal with it.
MCN: Where do you stand on extending network neutrality to the Googles of the world?
JP: I believe this notice is specifically related to facilities providers: the people who control the monopoly or oligopoly that is currently presented to the consumer. From the standpoint of what the independents are concerned about, we are concerned about how content is presented to the consumer.
It has always been about the consumer making choices. But if somebody else is making those choices, then the consumers are not necessarily weighing in in the way the Internet historically was supposed to have offered them.
I think the first step has to be [finding] where there are true facilities-based bottlenecks, because that, at the moment, is what the consumer is confronted with, but also because this is going on side by side with the commission creating the national broadband strategy.