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Sony would probably buy fast lanes in a world without net neutrality

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Leaked emails reveal Sony's position on net neutrality

Sony Pictures executives spent months discussing how they should handle the subject of net neutrality. As revealed in a series of leaked emails, executives waffled on whether or not they should file a comment with the Federal Communications Commission to present their view. Ultimately, Sony declined to file because of concerns that it was difficult to get the entirety of Sony on the same page, that Sony may not be able to add much value to the discussion, and that Sony could end up burning some bridges.

Sony doesn't want to be equal to "mom and pop" streaming services

But during the months leading up to the comment filing deadline in mid-September, Sony executives were still discussing what they would write in a filing, should they decide to comment. While there was no final consensus, Sony appeared to move more and more toward supporting paid fast lanes as the September deadline approached. The emails appear to have been first highlighted by The Daily Caller. Sony declined to comment.

Sony Pictures and other Sony units such as Crackle "are in the premium content business and do not want to be on equal footing with a random 'mom and pop' video streaming service," Keith Weaver, Sony Pictures' executive vice president of worldwide government affairs, wrote in early July. About a week later, Jim Morgan, Sony Electronics' government counsel, wrote that he was cutting out comments that touched on fast lanes because "[Sony Pictures Entertainment] or other parts of Sony may want to take advantage of paid prioritization, and so doesn’t want to be constrained by any arguments we make in these comments." Basically, Sony writes that it can see itself wanting to use paid fast lanes to help its many content businesses, be it delivering video games, movies, or something else.

In an undated document that was released as part of the Sony hack, Sony sums up its general position on a number of subjects, including net neutrality. The statement is worded so as to appear at first that Sony is supporting net neutrality — "the public internet should first be preserved" — but it goes on to say that "broadband providers and over-the-top service providers should be free to utilize specialized/priority services to advance their business interests." The document explains that Sony would like the rules to be reevaluated "from time to time" to consider granting exceptions to the rules for "data-intensive services."

Alongside the discussion of fast lanes, Sony Pictures executives were also focused on net neutrality's implications for piracy. When it comes to net neutrality's "no blocking" rule, Sony Pictures wanted to see that it was worded so that service providers were still allowed to block illegal content, such as pirated films. (This is, in fact, how the FCC ended up wording that provision.) Sony also brought up concerns about being affiliated with Imgur, BitTorrent, and Reddit were it to sign an open letter, issued early in the net neutrality process, asking the FCC to take a stance. Major tech firms, including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook had all signed the letter.

"The bottom line," Weaver wrote just over a week before the filing deadline, "net neutrality rules should not apply to content producers."