Federal policymaking is not exclusively about regulatory minutiae; sometimes we celebrate milestones. Yesterday Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Director Alan Inouye and I joined dozens of Congressional staffers, policy analysts and advocates in Cannon House Office Building in honor of the second anniversary of the Open Internet Order.
The star speaker was FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who highlighted the role of public support in 2015 that made the Order possible. Fortunately, The Hill captured verbatim the crux of Commissioner Clyburn’s comments in a quote that I (despite my furious notetaking), couldn’t quite get:
“For me it can be summed up in this way: How do we ensure that one of most inclusive, enabling, empowering platforms of our time continues to be one where our applications, products, ideas and diverse points of view have the exact same chance of being seen and heard by everyone, regardless of our class, race, economic status or where we live?”
The Open Internet Order allows the internet to remain the platform for equal access to information that it is. Everyone who uses the internet benefits from the fair playing field provided by the Order. But it holds special significance for minorities and people in low-income or underserved communities because it vests in the FCC the authority to enforce rules against anti-consumer practices that can lead to discrimination.
Imagine the internet without net neutrality. Information collected by internet service providers could be used as a proxy to enable racial profiling and target specific communities, leading to price gouging in underserved areas, predatory lending to certain groups and a host of other abuses. More importantly, a commodified internet could stifle the voices of minorities and groups who historically have struggled to be heard. Without network neutrality, this platform for a free exchange of ideas is vulnerable to a form of censorship by a handful of companies who would profit from it.
To undermine network neutrality is to undercut libraries’ core values.
Hosted by four of ALA’s advocacy allies – the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Free Press and National Hispanic Media Coalition – the event focused on the social justice enabled by net neutrality. ALA joined these and many other organizations last December in signing the Technology Rights and Opportunity principles, “advocating for policies that ensure freedom of speech and equality of opportunity for all, while expanding the ability of the internet to drive economic opportunity and education.” These principles clearly echo the core values of libraries. To undermine network neutrality is to undercut our core values.
Actions taken and statements made by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirm fears about threats to network neutrality identified by Larra Clark, Krista Cox and Kara Malenfant in a District Dispatch post earlier this year. “Free speech and free expression ensured by net neutrality will not be easy to defend,” said Commissioner Clyburn, and it will take a groundswell of grassroots support to maintain the protections of the 2015 Open Internet Order. ALA will play a big role in that groundswell through strengthening ties with other advocacy groups to defend net neutrality and our core values.
The internet is now a necessity for everyone, not a luxury for a few, and as Commissioner Clyburn put it, consumers expect there to be “a cop on the beat” – somebody protecting their interests in this broadband world. The FCC, says Clyburn, should be that “cop.” Whether or not the FCC will enforce network neutrality, one thing is for certain: librarians worked hard to gain the equal access to online information ensured by the Open Internet Order, and we’re not about to give it up without a fight.