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Musicians campaign for net neutrality protection

A coalition of prominent musicians has formed a "Rock the Net" campaign to lobby Congress to mandate the neutrality of the Internet.

The group wants laws to ensure broadband network operators treat all Internet traffic equally. Several high-profile artists, including R.E.M. and OK Go, will do a series of concerts throughout the country to increase awareness of the issue.

Jenny Toomey, executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, said the open nature of the Internet has given a middle class of artists access to wider audiences than ever before. Many of these artists would be denied innovative opportunities to connect with audiences if they were forced to pay premium rates for high-speed traffic to flow to their sites.

Artists already know what it is like to be blocked from certain audiences, Toomey said, because of a recent wave of payola scandals that has kept them off radio airwaves. She said all of the problems the music industry has faced in the digital era are coming to a head in the network neutrality debate.

Internet subcommittee chairman Rep. Edward Markey, D-MA, said the "Rock the Net" campaign will help him get network neutrality legislation on the books. "It's going to be big," he said. "It's going to be powerful."

Markey said the key question in the network neutrality debate should not be how it affects established Internet firms such as or Google, but rather how it affects the ability of smaller startups to tap into the Internet and expand. "The great thing about the Internet is that no one has to ask permission to get their voice heard," he said.

Andrew Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project, said that for musicians, network neutrality is just as much about uploading content as it is downloading. Artists, he said, should be able to upload without facing higher prices so that they can take advantage of social media and distribute their works.