Internet Neutrality – This issue is causing regulatory and judicial contention in the U.S. among Net users and access providers. Though there are no clear legal restrictions, telecommunications companies generally offer the same rates for different service levels to all customers. Many providers block common service ports, preventing consumers from hosting web and email servers unless they upgrade to a more expensive business account. Advocates of net neutrality have tried to restrict such charges. Corporations supporting both sides of the issue have spent huge amounts of money in lobbying Congress and five failed attempts have been made to pass bills containing some network neutrality provisions.
The idea is to prohibit Internet service providers from using variable pricing models based on the user’s Quality of Service level. In other words, the telecommunications companies shouldn’t be able to play favorites with the content that goes out over the network. This is a concept carried over from the Communications Act, which protects consumers by forbidding telephone companies from playing favorites. Supporters of net neutrality would like a government agency similar to the FCC overseeing the basic network to prevent the larger commercial websites from completely dominating the marketplace. Opponents include the cable TV companies, major Internet service providers, and large commercial websites. Japan already has Internet access laws based on net neutrality, but as of the moment the U.S. has still not created a legally-binding document. Without such federal protection, net neutrality could be replaced with the principle of survival of the fittest.
Growth of Better Access to Internet Radio – The power of the thousands of stations now on the Internet is being harnessed by a variety of stand-alone radios and gadgets to expand access instead of just from your computer. The Logitech Squeezebox Radio at $199 is one of the latest. Not only does it let you listen to all the Net music stations around the world, but also the music services like Rhapsody, Pandora and Napster. It also lets you stream your own MP3 collection. There’s also the Grace and the Livio Radios. You can use any of them as a separate unit with their built-in speaker, or connect them to your home audio system using stereo line out jacks. The radios search for the available Wi-Fi network and make connecting to the Net quite simple. Your Net stations then load into the device and with services such as Pandora you can create your own personalized music stations easily.
The Death of Liner Notes – There is a critical situation with regard to album notes for recordings of all sorts. With the music industry falling apart in recent years, the big record companies are doing less and less with their catalogs, so many fewer new liner notes for the enclosed booklets are being written. There are many fancy boxed sets of CDs coming out lately, and they are a natural home for enhanced liner notes – even lavish illustrated booklets. But in general record companies are pinched for cash. First they let most of their classical artists’ contracts go and have almost given up new classical recordings, but now they are also doing few reissues from their vast libraries of historic material. A number of small one-man classical reissue labels have sprung up – often with enhanced sonics over similar efforts from the former major labels – but there’s little money in their liner notes. More music is being bought digitally as downloads, and liner notes are in danger of being considered a needless frill. Writers of liner notes are not happy, of course, but consumers should also be concerned.