Don't Choke Internet Television

The following is an excerpt of the testimony of Steve Peterman, executive producer of Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on May 6:

When I began my writing career 20 years ago, you could watch Roseanne, Cosby, Cheers, The Wonder Years and the series on which I was lucky enough to be one of the original writers, Murphy Brown. These shows were all considered smart, funny, sometimes touching and even thought-provoking.

And they were all made by independent production companies.

Unfortunately, over the years since, those companies have disappeared. The unraveling of the financial interest and syndication rules, a process that began in 1992, has allowed for the greatest consolidation of media we have ever seen. Instead of a rich marketplace of ideas, today we have seven conglomerates controlling nearly all of the information and content we see. Because this small group now acts as producer, studio and network, there has been an inevitable stifling of creativity and diversity, and because they maintain a chokehold over distribution there has been nowhere else for the creative community to go. They've been the only game in town. Until the Internet.

It is now abundantly clear that the Internet is the new television. Today, you can watch episodes of almost any series you want, any time you want, on your computer or phone. Tomorrow, you'll be downloading first-run movies. And we in the Writers Guild are determined not to repeat the “Old Media” experience. …

But all of these bold new possibilities rely on “net neutrality.” In order for writers to reintroduce diversity back into media and entertainment, we must have a level playing field on an Internet without gate keepers; a system that is not at the mercy of those who control distribution, and who seek to leverage that control to create a fee system or, worse, as we currently experience, to own and control content. …

ISPs should not have the unilateral authority to disable program applications or to block or discriminate against access to legal Web sites, especially without appropriate transparency to consumers, content providers and the general public.

I also strongly support codifying these principles into the law of the land, as HR 5353 would do. Only with a federal law will we have the legal standing to demand that the Internet remain the open and vibrant marketplace of ideas it is today.

But when we talk about an open marketplace we don't mean a thieves marketplace. The Guild recognizes that piracy is a major problem. I've experienced this first hand — just look for Hannah Montana on You Tube; you'll find more than 110,000 results, many of which were stolen and none of which provide any income to me, the other writers of the show, or the studio.

But the solution is not establishing new rules that may prevent writers and other content creators from competing at all. …

Unless content creators and consumers have the freedom to create and access lawful content and services without discrimination by the Internet-service providers who, like the television networks in Old Media, have a chokehold over distribution, we will be doomed to repeat our own history.