WGA West prez Patric Verrone and SAG board member Justine Bateman traveled to Washington DC and testified at a hearing by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Tuesday, describing the Internet as the only remaining open market for truly independent creators and stressing the need for “Net Neutrality”. Both spoke on behalf of independent content creators concerned that Internet and broadband service providers will discriminate against their sites. The duo support free speech efforts to ensure consumers are guaranteed equal and unfettered access to all legal websites and online content.

verrone-strike.JPGVerrone, there representing guild writers whose bosses are the same companies that control the media, talked about the need to dethrone the Internet gatekeppers: “The axiom in Hollywood is that ‘content is king’. But those who control access to the king control the kingdom. Because of federal regulation — or lack thereof — that control is in the hands of neither the consumer nor the content creators, but the distributors… The policy decisions that triggered the consolidation of old media has not yet been made for the new media. There is still time to protect the rights of content producers and consumers. We need to establish clear Net Neutrality rules to ensure that the Internet remains a level playing field for all.”

Bateman was not representing the actors guild but instead speaking as a partner in a company that plans to launch an online video channel. justine-strike.jpg“In entertainment, I believe we are on the verge of a creative renaissance and the Internet is the new grid upon which this renaissance can rest, because unfortunately the business grid of TV and film today cannot support that… We content creators have found open distribution on the Internet. And the idea of your site succeeding or failing based upon whether or not you paid the telecom companies enough to carry your material, or allow quick access, is appalling. Honestly, I can’t help but think of extortion when I imagine that kind of arrangement. Net Neutrality will allow for we creators to continue owning and controlling our content in a way that we have not been able to since the repeal of the financial and syndication rules. A whole new class of small business owners will emerge, providing thousands of new jobs in a sector that desperately needs them. And with innovation comes competition. Net Neutrality would insure a level playing field for that.”

The Senate panel is examining whether more regulation is needed over the telephone and cable companies which provide Internet service over their networks. Sens. Byron Dorgan, (D-N.D.) and Olympia Snowe, (R-Maine) requested the hearing into reports of specific discriminatory incidents involving Comcast Corp, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc. engaging in unfair and/or anticompetitive practices. Dornan has introduced a Net Neutrality bill, which would guarantee that all Internet traffic be treated equally by carriers and foil plans by Internet providers to charge websites extra for preferential treatment of their traffic. Look for more debate involving Hollywood as this Net Neutrality issue heats up even more.