Rep. Pallone talks net neutrality at N.J. library

Guest post by Tonya Garcia, director of Long Branch (New Jersey) Public Library

The Long Branch Public Library recently hosted a meeting with their representative, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ6), to discuss net neutrality and its importance to libraries. As the most senior minority representative on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he is a strong advocate for net neutrality (the principle that internet service providers should pick winners and losers among content and services offered to consumers). The library community is grateful for his interest in how libraries and the people they serve will be affected should rules preserving net neutrality be weakened or completely eliminated, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed.

Four people standing in a library, facing camera

Left to right: Tonya Garcia, director of Long Branch Public Library; Patricia A. Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association; U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (NJ6); Eileen M. Palmer, director of the Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium. Photo credit: Eileen Palmer

Following a tour of the library, Congressman Pallone met to discuss net neutrality and how important he believes it is to maintain rules protecting access to high-speed broadband. He invited the library advocates to share our concerns with him.

Patricia A. Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association (NJLA), told the Congressman that in their comments filed with the FCC, the NJLA noted:

“The current net neutrality rules promote free speech and intellectual expression. The New Jersey Library Association is concerned that changes to existing net neutrality rules will create a tiered version of the internet in which libraries and other noncommercial enterprises are limited to the internet’s ’slow lanes‘ while high-definition movies and corporate content obtain preferential treatment.

People who come to the library because they cannot afford broadband access at home should not have their choices in information shaped by who can pay the most. Library sites—key portals for those looking for unbiased knowledge—and library users could be among the first victims of slowdowns.”

The availability of affordable high-speed internet has meant that public libraries now serve as incubators for local entrepreneurs, noted James Keehbler, director of the Piscataway Public Library. His makerspace and makers programs within the Piscataway library play a central role in supporting their residents. Without access to high speed internet, their makerspace, for example, could not have been used by local entrepreneurs to develop prototypes that were used in successful crowd-sourced funding efforts to start a local business.

New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute also discussed the significant current investment in digital resources by the state’s library that are then made available to all New Jersey residents. These expensive resources are relied on by small businesses, students, job seekers and lifelong learners throughout the state. A “slow lane” internet in libraries would hamper access to bandwidth-heavy visual content such as training videos used by those seeking certifications for employment and many others.

Eileen M. Palmer, director of the Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium and member of the ALA’s Committee on Legislation, added concerns that the loss of net neutrality rules could negatively impact the many local digital collections housed in public and academic libraries. She also spoke about the potential loss of access to government information, such as the NASA high-speed video feeds used just recently by many libraries to host eclipse programs and viewing events for students and the public.

This was a wide-ranging discussion. Attendees were appreciative of Congressman Pallone’s leadership on this issue and his interest in better understanding how libraries and our patrons will be impacted should we lose rules protecting net neutrality. It also was a conversation that the Congressman was eager to have with his constituents in a library in his congressional district.

Who’ll be writing the next blog about their representative’s visit to their library, I wonder?

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the assistant director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations.

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