Joy Howard is the CMO at Sonos. The views expressed are her own.
As a woman hanging around the music scene for a while, I’ve noticed a couple of things about the internet. Let’s call them the web’s two canaries in a coal mine: music and women. Music has always been on the front lines of tech’s disruption of media. Women have always been a harbinger of the internet to come. To understand why net neutrality matters, we’d do well to have a look at what it means for both.
I worked as a recording artist in the 90s and benefited from the post-Nirvana, major-label indie gold rush. Our little band from an Atlanta neighborhood called Cabbagetown was signed by the brit-pop powerhouse label Too Pure and distributed by Rick Rubin’s American Recordings through Warner Bros. One of the very first emails I sent my band was to let them know that I was leaving to go to business school.
The year was 2000, and the digital age slammed into the music industry. The launch of the file-sharing site Napster ushered in an era of value destruction in the industry that would see revenues from recorded music decline by half over the next 10 years. People were copying and sharing music without compensating artists. Many of them loved music but weren’t paying for it. While we saw the rise of Creative Commons, which allowed millions of people around the world to lawfully share and mash-up content, this model didn’t fix the fact that artists need to get paid. The advent of paid streaming means we are beginning to see value return to the music ecosystem, and along with it a way that artists can make a living. Streaming is s promising – even if the licensing rates need to be worked out – and the future looks bright for creativity.
Today, the internet provides a platform for emerging artists – just like my obscure shoegaze band from Cabbagetown – to break through and reach people around the world. As a principle, net neutrality embraces the promise of an open internet. It’s rooted in the belief that we can listen to what we want, when we want, and everyone is free to create and share their music.
Yet in December, the Federal Communications Commission, led by a former Verizon employee, decided to listen to large internet providers instead of the public and to scrap the strong rules for net neutrality that were passed in 2015.
This is bad for music.
Right now I can listen to what I want, when I want – I’m free to go wherever I like on the internet. I can choose to listen on Spotify or Apple Music or my friend’s DJ set on Soundcloud. I can listen to Donna Summers or the Dum Dum Girls. The music all loads at the same speed.
Without net neutrality, I don’t get a choice – it’s made for me by my internet provider. And don’t be fooled by the people who say this isn't a big deal.
Net neutrality has wide bipartisan support. A December 2017 survey found that 75% of Republicans opposed repealing net neutrality, along with 89% of Democrats and 86% of Independents. More than 22 million people filed comments in a public docket at the Federal Communications Commission in support of net neutrality. Some 150 artists and musicians came out in favor of net neutrality because “[w]ithout net neutrality there will be less awesome art. Period.”
That leads me to what net neutrality means to women.
Women’s belief in tech utopia died with Gamergate, and the disastrous trolling of our first female presidential candidate was the nail in the coffin. Yet a free internet has also allowed us to mobilize for women’s marches, opened the floodgates for revelations resulting in #metoo, and pushed all of us to demand deeper social and political change.
Meanwhile, internet service providers continue to remind us that they aspire to control content. In 2012, Verizon argued in court that it wanted the ability to make editorial decisions — like they were an actual news outlet — and decide what content traveled over their network.
What would these gatekeepers do with content that could impact lives, like helping survivors of domestic violence? Or pay equality? Or discrimination at work? Do we really trust internet providers to tell us what we can and cannot learn about? How we can and cannot mobilize?
Fortunately there's still time to act. And if we’ve learned anything over the past year, it's that your voice matters.
Right now, Congress can pass Congressional Review Act legislation to restore the net neutrality protections created in 2015. There are already 50 Senators who are ready to support it and with one more vote, the House will take it on. There’s no need for a new law — the existing rules worked perfectly. You can take action online by asking your representatives to restore these rules.
Sonos was born to a free and open internet, we have built our business around it, and thrived as a part of it. That’s why we're closing our flagship store in New York today — it’s so important to us to draw attention to the cause on music’s biggest night to remind people that we all need to protect the future of creativity.
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