Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Barbershop Punk, a documentary by Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield, at the Vermont International Film Festival (there will be two more screenings this week at the festival). The film contemplates the future of the American Internet and surrounding issues. Following the screening was a panel discussion with Georgia Sugimura Archer (Film Director), Casey Rae-Hunter (Future of Music Coalition), Josh Levy (Free Press), and moderator Jon Stout (Free Speech TV). The panelists discussed the past, present, and future of the Internet as an open platform (video available on CCTV Center for Media & Democracy’s website).
The film follows the story of barbershop quartet baritone Robb Topolski. In 2007 Robb proved that Comcast was blocking peer-to-peer uploads. What makes this an engaging film isn’t the Internet technology and policies illustrated in it, but the human story that weaves theses issues together. I won’t spoil the film with the details, but Robb’s parallel personal story is a large part of what makes this film work.
The film faced a challenge in the fluid nature of the topics it covers. In December of 2009 Comcast and NBC Universal announced plans for a merger. In January of 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that corporations have a First Amendment right to fund independent political broadcasts in candidate elections. In April of 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC overstepped its bounds when they tried to regulate how Comcast could mange its network. The directors attempted to address these recent events with an updated cut of the film.
Barbershop Punk is a great primer on network neutrality issues. While the film clearly has a bias in favor of network neutrality, we hear from many different voices and perspectives throughout the film. I highly recommend that you watch it if you get a chance.
Update (11/5/2010): The Vermont International Film Festival has posted a video of the Network Neutrality Panel.