Much of the focus on net neutrality has been about how its loss would stifle innovation in the tech field, how companies would be reluctant to innovate, even to start up, in an environment where their software, their apps, their products couldn't compete on a level playing field. Those are compelling arguments, but it's not just commerce that's at stake here. The arts, Alyssa Rosenberg argued a few weeks ago when the two-tiered internet plan in the FCC was first discussed, require the same opportunity to reach the public as tech companies.
"'Life, Itself,' I think, was the first film in Sundance's history to be seen at home the same night it was shown at Sundance. And I think Roger would have been tremendously exhilarated about that," Chaz Ebert said of the biopic about her husband, the late critic Roger Ebert, in a discussion at EbertFest last month. "Some people live in small towns, and some movies like 'Museum Hours' or 'Short Term 12' may never make it to some small towns. So in the sense that if they had a film festival where you could get access to that and buy access for streaming afterwards, I'm in favor of that, so more people can see them otherwise.”An internet that is free and open for innovation in technology is open as well for free expression, for exploration and development of ideas and images and words and films that entertain and inspire. That certainly seems worth protecting.
But what happens if it becomes difficult to stream those independent films? What if independent films, distributed through standalone Web sites or smaller streaming companies, buffer endlessly while content on sites like Netflix, which pay for fast-lane access, loads immediately?
At EbertFest, after receiving the Golden Thumb for "Museum Hours," filmmaker Jem Cohen said that Ebert's vision would be in danger without net neutrality provisions that prevent some people from paying for faster loading speeds.
"If we value unusual experiences in what we read, what we watch, and what we do, then we do have to support things that make that possible. When it comes to cinema and this idea of arthouse cinema and kind of the non-blockbuster, over and over again, it is disappearing for real," he said.
If different content is allowed to load at different rates, he said, "it is just simply not mysterious what it will lead to…The bigger company will get the lanes on the highway. And the little art film that might have ended up there will be slower to load and easier for people to give up on. Because they will just go and watch the big movie from the big company that loads really quickly…It seems kind of obscure, but they may really, really, really affect not just what you watch, but what people like me get to make.