Today, ALA joins close to 200 organizations participating in a Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality. Websites, internet users and online communities are coming together to sound the alarm about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s attack on net neutrality. You can add your voice to a growing and powerful chorus.
ALA and America’s libraries believe protecting and preserving the open internet is essential for ensuring the free flow of information to all, which underpins free speech, research and learning, economic empowerment and digital innovation. We have historically and currently support strong, enforceable net neutrality rules from the FCC as a matter of our values and ethics, public mission and professional practice as broadband consumers and advocates.
I often get the question—from librarians, net neutrality advocates and adversaries) —about the specific ALA- and library-stake in this issue. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last 8+ years working on this issue and here are a few of the things I see through a library lens.
As a matter of principle, library professionals commit to professional values of intellectual freedom, equitable access to information and diversity. Consider:
- Intellectual freedom and free expression are as fundamental to the Internet as the First Amendment is to American democracy. These also are the core values of America’s public, K-12 school, higher education and all libraries. Commercial ISPs should not be enabled to serve as gatekeepers for the information people may freely access online.
- Equitable access to information online depends on the open internet. Prioritized access to some content over others is antithetical to librarian and democratic values. It also runs counter to the innovative and “permissionless” nature of the internet that enables creators to reach global audiences by the quality of their offerings rather than the size of their wallet.
- Embedded in both of the above is a commitment to the need to foster and share a diversity of voices, ideas and experiences.
As a matter of practice, libraries collect, create, provide access to and disseminate essential information to the public over the internet. Consider:
- Will libraries—largely funded through public dollars—be able to compete for priority access to share diverse digital collections that range from community newspaper and photo archives to downloadable local music to veterans’ oral history projects to documentary video?
- Will libraries be able to pay increased fees to vendors that may pass along the costs of paying for prioritized access to their streaming and downloadable media resources?
- Will libraries be required to consider the affiliated (and therefore likely prioritized) content available through a commercial ISP when selecting their broadband provider(s)? And will they be forced to pay multiple ISPs to provide service to enable public access to affiliated content?
- Will libraries’ ability to provide no-fee public internet access to support bandwidth-intensive services ranging from high-definition video conferencing and distance learning to big data sharing to telemedicine be compromised if these services are throttled in favor of commercial content preferred by commercial ISPs?
- How will libraries educate their public internet users to these choices and limitations related to prioritized content—both in terms of patrons’ access and their ability to contribute their own cultural and commercial products to other internet users? How transparent will ISP practices be to libraries and the campuses, communities and individuals we serve?
America’s libraries and librarians are rightly recognized as essential democratic institutions and leading advocates for people’s rights to read and express themselves freely. The internet is today’s most essential platform for this speech and expression.
An open internet in which commercial ISPs are prohibited from blocking, throttling, degrading, discriminating or prioritizing among online content and services is essential to free expression and equitable access and contribution to online information.
To preserve the open internet, we must have legal protections and the ability of the expert government agency to enforce these protections. The 2015 Open Internet Order enables these protections, creates a framework for addressing future conduct concerns, and allows for the flexibility to forbear where needed. The FCC must retain and use as needed its lawful authority and not entrust the future of the internet to entities whose financial interests may vary significantly from the public interests.
Today is a big day, but one among many ahead to preserve the gains ALA and other network neutrality advocates made in 2014 and 2015. Please join us now in sending the strongest message possible to the FCC about the value of an open internet for libraries and the people we serve. And please stay tuned and share your questions and ideas with us in the coming weeks and months.