A Friend to Writers
During a visit to the Guild, FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel stresses the importance of burgeoning new outlets and an open Internet for writers and the dangers of anti-competitive measures that hamper the creative process.  

By Ellen Stutzman, WGAW Research and Public Policy Director, and John Vezina, WGAW Political Director

(May 2, 2013) 

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel flanked by WGAW President Chris Keyser (L) and Board member Chip Johannessen.  

“Decisions without you are decisions against you,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during a recent meeting with Writers Guild members and staff. Rosenworcel was in Los Angeles to discuss public policy with members of the entertainment industry.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC), with jurisdiction over the most important issues affecting writers including Net Neutrality, wireless spectrum, and media competition, is comprised of five members appointed by the President. Three of the five Commissioners share the same party affiliation as the President. Rosenworcel, confirmed to her seat in May 2012, is one of the newest members of the Commission. Before her confirmation she served as Senior Communications Counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee.

During the two-hour meeting President Chris Keyser, Board members Chip Johannessen and John Aboud, Executive Director David Young and other Guild staff engaged in a substantive discussion about policy matters facing writers. Among these were the decline in independent production, new media as a burgeoning avenue for writers, protecting an open Internet and tapping into the innovative ways in which Americans are watching television.

While acknowledging the days of Fin-Syn’s robust independent production are gone, Rosenworcel asked Guild members what the FCC could do to ensure writers had as many outlets for their work as possible. Our writers stressed the importance of making sure new online opportunities such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube are allowed to prosper without undue restrictions like bandwidth caps.

Although Guild members and the Commissioner agreed it may be reasonable for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge more for bandwidth usage above a certain level, all firmly believe caps should not be used by ISPs in an unfair or anti-competitive manner. Some cable companies are currently experimenting with caps, which may force consumers to restrict viewing from independent sources like Netflix or Amazon. In the case of Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, there is a clear incentive to cap programming delivered by competitors in favor of their own content. Although this may improve Comcast’s bottom line, it will almost surely harm writers by restricting competition and limiting the number of businesses buying their works.

Rosenworcel asked writers for help identifying ways of promoting the core values, like independent production, of the Fin-Syn rules. She also asked writers to consider how to communicate the importance of an open Internet to the public and other audiences at a time when conservative groups label Net Neutrality - the concept an ISP should not regulate consumer access to legal content of their choosing - as “government regulation.” While turning the truth on its head this way builds support for the ISP’s efforts to control how consumers view content on the Internet, it is anti-competitive and does damage to the creative process.

The WGAW’s public policy and political programs ensure writers’ voices are heard by decision-makers. The public policy department submits filings to the FCC on numerous subjects impacting issues, such as independent production, bandwidth caps, and an Open Internet. The Guild’s political department works to educate members of Congress and the Administration on writers’ perspectives on these issues. Without this outreach, as Commissioner Rosenworcel stated so well, decisions made without us are decisions made against us.