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Net Neutrality and Libraries

Internet Browser Network Neutrality (often called Net Neutrality) has been in the news recently as the result of the January 14 ruling by the US Court of Appeals which struck down most of the Open Internet Order. But what is net neutrality and what does it have to do with libraries? According to the American Library Association (ALA) net neutrality “is the concept of online non-discrimination. It is the principle that consumers/citizens should be free to get access to – or to provide – the Internet content and services they wish, and that consumer access should not be regulated based on the nature or source of that content or service.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) uses the concept of “Open Internet” to reflect net neutrality.

The Open Internet Rules adopted by the FCC included the following:

  • Transparency. Broadband providers must disclose information regarding their network management practices, performance, and the commercial terms of their broadband services.
  • No blocking. Fixed broadband providers (such as DSL, cable modem, or fixed wireless providers) may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
  • No unreasonable discrimination. Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service. Unreasonable discrimination of network traffic could take the form of particular services or websites appearing slower or degraded in quality.

According to a recent post by ALA member Larra Clark, the recent ruling struck down most of the FCC’s Open Internet Rules and would in essence allow “commercial companies the legal authority to block Internet traffic, give preferential treatment to certain Internet services or applications, and steer users to or away from certain web sites based on their own commercial interests.” The court ruling did encourage the FCC to “act to preserve the free and open Internet.”

Net Neutrality is an important concept for libraries for several reasons. ALA presents the case that libraries are important access points for information for many people. The ALA itself advocates for “intellectual freedom, which is the ‘right of all peoples to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.’” The Internet is a tool which can be used to connect people and allows for the free flow of information and ideas. While many libraries are access points for the Internet, libraries are also looking at ways to leverage technology such as the Internet to better connect, inform, and inspire their users. In higher education unrestricted access to information on the Internet may lead to research and development which will have an impact on society. By allowing business and service providers to determine who has access to the Internet, what content can be viewed, or what type of quality of access a user can have the limitless possibilities of Internet connectivity and research which are supported by Net Neutrality and the principles of the Open Internet are restricted.

Organizations including ALA, EDUCAUSE, and ARL have released a joint letter to the FCC advocating for the preservation of the Open Internet.

On January 19, 2014 FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement on plans to update the FCC’s Open Internet Rules and continue to support the goals of the Open Internet.

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