As future information professionals, it is vitally important for library school students to follow major trends and topics in our respective industries. Today, library students have more opportunities than ever to participate in discussions and initiatives that will shape the future of our profession. The tools at our disposal include library journals, websites like Hack Library School, microblogs like Twitter and Tumblr, and a wide variety of conferences.
One of the most significant topics affecting libraries today is the issue of network neutrality, or “net” neutrality. Library professionals, and the American Library Association (ALA) in particular, have lobbied on behalf of the Open Internet and net neutrality practices for many years. In supporting net neutrality, the ALA and other Open Internet advocates have expressed concerns about intellectual freedom and the right to information.
Net neutrality, a core component of the Open Internet, reflects the idea that access to information should not be restricted by commercial regulations. In other words, Internet consumers should be able to access the same information without barriers and regardless of their socioeconomic status. Additionally, net neutrality protections allow all information providers to distribute content to consumers without undue interference. Net neutrality is a key tool in tackling the “digital divide”, since economically disadvantaged citizens may be disproportionately affected by Internet inequality.
Internet service providers (ISPs) have sought the right to charge information providers for the right to distribute data at higher speeds, providing a significant advantage to entities that could afford to pay higher subsidies. This practice was considered to be a violation of U.S. law until January 2014, when a Federal Circuit Court in Washington, D.C. struck down a provision barring paid prioritization arrangements in Verizon v. FCC. In response ALA, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and EDUCAUSE submitted an open letter to the FCC highlighting the interests of high education and library internet use.
On May 15, the FCC announced a proposal to modify its net neutrality rules. As part of this new proposal, the FCC has initiated a four month process for collecting comments from citizens, the private sector, and civil society organizations. In a recent statement, ALA Immediate Past President Maureen Sullivan reiterated the ALA’s continuing support for preserving and strengthening net neutrality rules.
Net neutrality discussions will also have a prominent place at the ALA Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada next week with a special session on net neutrality featuring Gigi Sohn, special counsel for the FCC’s External Affairs office. To learn more about ALA’s work with net neutrality, visit ALA’s net neutrality advocacy page at www.ala.org/advocacy/telecom/netneutrality.