What is Net Neutrality?
The FCC has extended its deadline to comment on FCC.gov about net neutrality until Friday July 18th. Due to high traffic and large volumes of public comments, the FCC website crashed on Tuesday, causing them to extend the deadline. That means you have until Friday to send your comments for or against Net Neutrality to the FCC. But what’s is Net Neutrality and why are people talking about it?
The American Library Association defines Net Neutrality as “the concept of online non-discrimination. It is the principle that consumers/citizens should be free to get access to – or to provide – the Internet content and services they wish, and that consumer access should not be regulated based on the nature or source of that content or service.” Reuters explains Net Neutrality as “a principle that says Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means companies like Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications Inc should not block or slow down access to any website or content on the Web – for instance, to benefit their own services over those of competitors.” The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) uses the term “Open Internet” rather than Net Neutrality and FCC.gov provides a history of the debate and court challenges to their 2010 “Open Internet Order.”
Sounds pretty boring?
So who is against Net Neutrality?
Many telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers (i.e. Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon) argue that they should be allowed to charge content providers (i.e. Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon, Hulu etc) a premium price in exchange for giving users faster or priority access to that content. Many reports describe this as creating a “fast lane” and charging a “toll” for certain websites and online content providers who use a lot of bandwidth (like YouTube, Hulu, or Netflix and other video streaming or gaming sites). According to this article from The Christian Science Monitor, these companies “insist it should be their prerogative to manage the data flowing on their privately-owned pipes, collecting reasonable, market-based fees from those who want to connect.”
Why are people upset about an Internet “fast lane”?
Net Neutrality and Open Internet supporters argue that broadband providers could discriminate against content providers. Comcast, for example, which is set to acquire Time Warner and become the largest Internet Service Provider in the United States, also owns NBC Universal, so Comcast may choose to prioritize NBC content over other networks and websites. Many have argued that creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” disadvantages smaller companies, businesses, or individuals who can’t afford the costs of negotiating with large telecom corporations; they argue this could reduce innovation in tech and entertainment. Opponents also worry that getting rid of Net Neutrality could lead to censorship because content that Internet Service Providers disagree with could be slowed down and rendered inaccessible.
Politicians and celebrities like Senator Al Franken have come out in support of keeping access to the Internet open for all content providers. Many large tech companies including Google, Amazon, Netflix and Facebook have sided with Net Neutrality as well.
Why do Libraries care about Net Neutrality?
Many libraries worry that research, academic, or controversial content– especially free, noncommercial content– will be relegated to “slow lanes” and become harder to discover. According to the American Library Association: “A world in which librarians and other noncommercial enterprises are of necessity limited to the Internet’s ‘slow lanes’ while high-definition movies can obtain preferential treatment seems to us to be overlooking a central priority for a democratic society – the necessity of enabling educators, librarians, and, in fact, all citizens to inform themselves and each other just as much as the major commercial and media interests can inform them.”
What can you do about it?
First, read up on the topic and decide where you stand. Search for “net neutrality” on Opposing Viewpoints to find news and scholarly articles on both sides of the issue.
Next, you can share your thoughts as a public comment on FCC.gov or email email@example.com by Friday July 18th. The FCC is seeking feedback from the public before it proceeds with regulating or deregulating of the current “Open Internet.”