On May 15, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to release a proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules. The proposal, written by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to charge websites for faster services. What does this mean? Companies can pay money to be in a virtual "fast lane" for sending content, leaving less lucrative websites in the dust.
Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the Internet should be treated equally. Content, sites, and platforms should not have preferential treatment by ISPs and governments, and this ruling violates net neutrality.
Advocates for net neutrality include nonprofits, open web activists, digital inclusion specialists, technologists, and yes, librarians.
It's easy to feel pessimistic about this recent news, but librarians and open web advocates have faced adversity before. We can still have our voices heard: we have the opportunity to tell the government that this ruling will threaten the availability of important educational and cultural content as well as challenge equal access to information.
The American Libraries Association's Stance on Net Neutrality
The ALA has been outspoken on its stance for a neutral web. Intellectual freedom is the "right of all peoples to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction." When certain websites are given preferential treatment to others, information access is unequal.
As providers of free information, Internet access, training, and technology tools, libraries are one of the most active institutions in bridging the digital divide. When access to that information is filtered or unequal, the library and its staff cannot do its part in protecting intellectual freedom.
In response to the May 15 decision, the ALA published a press release to reaffirm its commitment to the Open Internet. The ALA will "actively engage on behalf of libraries nationwide, and the millions of people who rely on our services."
Impact on Library and Other Non-Commercial Websites
Library and other non-commercial websites will be affected by this decision. In the Nonprofit Times, TechSoup Global's Karen Coppock, vice president of strategy and impact, commented that social sector organizations, including public libraries, will be impacted by this ruling:
A ‘fast lane’ means there is also a ‘slow lane,’ and social sector organizations will inevitably be consigned there, with consequences for their mission achievement and with negative impact on the millions who depend on social sector organizations as a lifeline and for other vital services.
When certain websites get put in a "fast lane," it means that other sites are relegated to a slow lane. And unless your library has the budget to shell out money for faster service, the valuable digitized educational, informational, and cultural content you provide will take a backseat to commercial content. It will also affect the non-commercial websites you connect your patrons to, such as social services, e-learning tools, and nonprofit resources.
Librarians, Take Action!
The FCC ruling opened a four-month public comment period before it will take a final vote on the proposal. Now is the time to have your voice heard and fight for net neutrality. Here's what you can do:
- Email the ALA Washington Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) examples of ISP slowdowns and any related difficulties or harm to your community's needs.
- Attending the ALA conference in Las Vegas? Gigi Sohn, FCC Senior Counsel for External Affairs for Chairman Wheeler, will be speaking at a panel on June 28 at 10:30 AM.
- Anyone is invited to email comments to email@example.com or post them online under their ruling on Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. All comments are publicly viewable here.
- Ask the FCC questions via social media using the #AskWheeler hashtag.
- Call your representative and let them know how net neutrality affects your community.
Where do you stand on net neutrality? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.