AUDIE CORNISH, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
I'm Robert Siegel.
And it's time now for All Tech Considered.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: Tomorrow, the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on network neutrality. That's a bland name for a remarkably controversial issue -the notion that all websites should be treated equally by service providers.
NPR's Laura Sydell reports on the vote's implications for music.
LAURA SYDELL: The Internet hasn't been good to traditional record labels. But for musicians like Damian Kulash, the lead singer of the band�OK Go, it opened up a new channel for creativity.
(Soundbite of song, "A Million Ways")
SYDELL: Five years ago, the band made a cheap video of its song "A Million Ways."
(Soundbite of song, "A Million Ways")
Mr. DAMIAN KULASH (Musician): (Singing) Sit back, matter of fact, teasing, toying, turning, chatting...
It was a video clip of a rehearsal of a totally ludicrous dance routine that we were going to do during a stage show.
SYDELL: A friend put the video online and it went viral.
Mr. KULASH: A month later we noticed that it had a few hundred thousand downloads. And, you know, we were shocked 'cause that was as many records as we had sold to date at that point.
SYDELL: Kulash says at the time the band was signed to EMI Music, one of the majors. But neither side was happy with the arrangement and they parted ways.
Mr. KULASH: Our sort of, albeit naive, business model is make a bunch of awesome stuff, you know. When it's demonstrated that people love it, you'll figure out ways to make money off of it.
SYDELL: Kulash and OK Go have been doing just fine without a major label. And he's not alone. Casey Rae Hunter of the Future of Music Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, says there has been an explosion of independent musicians who can now reach their fans without a label or radio play.
Mr. CASEY RAE HUNTER (Future of Music Coalition): In the old days, they would still have to navigate this pretty complex system of bottlenecks and gatekeepers to reach the fan. And the Internet means that you can develop and cultivate these sort of one-on-one relationships. They can become viral, like OK Go videos that you see on YouTube. Or it can be just a sort of like, holy crap, I'm talking to my favorite rock star on Twitter.
SYDELL: But Hunter is worried that this open utopia for music is threatened. He says many Internet service providers, or ISPs - such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T - would like to have more control over the Internet service they provide to your home.
Mr. HUNTER: Imagine logging on to your favorite band's website or you wanted to buy something from them directly, and you were just somehow diverted to the ISP's favorite online music store.
SYDELL: Hunter and other consumer groups are hoping that the FCC will create network neutrality rules that would prevent the big telecoms from giving preferred service to certain content providers and slowing down the service of others.
But George Ou, with the free-market-leaning think tank Digital Society, says the richer companies like Google's YouTube, Apple's iTunes and Netflix already pay more to get faster service from the ISPs.
Mr. GEORGE OU (Digital Society): The Internet right now has multiple tiers, where if you pay more, you get more.
SYDELL: Ou thinks if the FCC steps in with network neutrality rules, it would harm today's Internet.
Mr. OU: They're going to change the Internet such that services like YouTube and Netflix simply won't work.
SYDELL: That's nonsense, says Gigi Sohn, president of the consumer rights group Public Knowledge. Sohn says it wants the FCC to make sure the big telecoms can't make deals that favor some companies over others.�Sohn says she isn't talking about companies that buy access to more servers or cables that run between cities. She's talking about how the Internet gets into your home.
Ms. GIGI SOHN (President, Public Knowledge): It's about whether the cable, the telephone, the wireless company can favor certain content in the last mile between it and the subscriber. And that's what we object to, and that's what we need rules of the road to protect against.
SYDELL: In fact, she points out�that Google and Verizon have already offered their own proposal that includes tiered service. OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash says he fears a return to the days when big companies played gatekeeper and decided which writers, musicians and filmmakers got on TV, radio and into bookstores.
Mr. KULASH: And it's just bad for creativity. You know, the best ideas don't win. The most money wins.
SYDELL: Tomorrow, the FCC will lay out a plan for network neutrality regulations, and the full commission will take a vote.
Laura Sydell, NPR News.