One of my first projects when I joined the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy was to work with colleagues in the Office of Government Relations to advocate around the development of what would become the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet Order.
Not only were we speaking to the important principles of network neutrality, but we successfully argued to ensure libraries and higher education institutions were included (along with residential and business customers) in network neutrality provisions for the public internet.
My colleagues and partners in this work were already “old hands” (dating back to 2006) on this issue as the library and higher-education community had spoken out early on the importance a neutral and free internet for our students, faculty, general public and our staff. Among our arguments, we asserted that:
- Libraries, colleges and universities depend on the intellectual freedom afforded by the Open Internet to develop content and applications that serve the public interest;
- Libraries and higher education institutions are prolific providers of content, services and applications on the Open Internet;
- Research libraries and institutions rely on the Open Internet as end-users to collaborate with and obtain content and services from outside sources; and
- The ability to access library, college and university services should not depend on location.
While we felt the FCC’s Open Internet Order fell short in some areas, particularly with regard to mobile wireless services, ALA was pleased the order established a precedent that ISPs must keep the Internet open to library users and library content
Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals has made the old new again with its ruling to strike down most of the Open Internet Order on January 14. The court’s decision gives commercial companies the astounding 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. At the same time, however, the court did recognize the FCC’s legal authority to protect the public’s access to Internet services.
FCC Chairman Wheeler has said that the court “invited the Commission to act to preserve a free and open Internet,” and he will soon release his plan to move forward.
This is good news for all of us who believe that preserving an open Internet is essential to our nation’s freedom of speech, educational achievement, and economic growth. In a letter to Chairman Wheeler today, ALA with ARL and EDUCAUSE, seek to work with the FCC in developing new policies that preserve network neutrality and incorporate the essential roles our institutions play in this area.
The arguments we made several years ago are only more true today in terms of ensuring equitable access to educational digital content. While digital learning was already well underway in 2010, it has become a far more important force in learning, particularly with the recent emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Digital collections have been “kicked up a notch” with the emergence of the Digital Public Library of America. And more public libraries are enabling digital creation and distribution through their hands-on learning labs. We must ensure that these creative and research resources are not relegated to any Internet “slow lane” while others with deeper pockets are able to cut deals with ISPs to prioritize access to their offerings.
It’s time to restore the Open Internet!