Washington Hotline

Jenni Terry

Net neutrality

From mid-January 2010 to the final days of December, network (net) neutrality was an ongoing issue with an uncertain future. Yet, unlike in years past, some progress was made, setting the stage for Congressional action in the near future and a possible tug-of-war between Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Back in January, ALA voiced support for the FCC’s announcement of its efforts to maintain an open Internet by codifying the principles of network neutrality, including two new principles—nondiscrimination and transparency—introduced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

ALA believes nondiscrimination is essential to ensuring equal access to content on the Internet, and the principle of transparency will promote openness of service providers’ practices, including how they manage their networks.

Yet, as is usually the case in Washington, reaching the next marker on the road to ensuring an open Internet took much time—about 12 months in this case.

Leading up to the FCC’s vote on the net neutrality rule and order on December 21, ALA, Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and EDUCAUSE sent a letter to the commissioners stressing the importance of ensuring the upcoming net neutrality order contains sufficient protections for library and higher education services made available to the public. In the letter, the organizations specifically asked the FCC to address the following concerns prior to the scheduled vote on the net neutrality order.

  • The definition of Broadband Internet Access Service should not be limited to consumer retail services. If the word consumer is defined as a residential consumer, then libraries and higher education would not be protected by the proposed net neutrality rules and policies.
  • ALA, ARL, and EDUCAUSE believe “paid prioritization” should be banned altogether. Higher education and libraries already pay subscriber fees to obtain access to the Internet. Our concern is that such prioritization puts not-for-profit educational institutions at a disadvantage compared to entertainment and for-profit educational entities.
  • Net neutrality protections should be limited to “lawful traffic.” Broadband operators should not be given absolute discretion to block traffic based on their own private determination that it is unlawful.
  • Wireless services should be treated the same as wireline services. All Internet subscribers, whether using wireline or wireless technologies, should have the same right to a neutral, nonprioritized Internet.

On December 21, the FCC voted (3–2) in favor of the net neutrality order. However, from ALA’s perspective, the order does not go far enough to ensure libraries and other community anchor institutions’ content and services can be equally accessed by the public.

While the FCC addressed the definition issue raised in a letter by U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui (CA-5), Edward Markey (MA-7) and Anna Eshoo (CA-14) on behalf of the ALA, the additional provisions ALA sought (bullets 2–4 above) were not sufficiently met.

The order does not hold wireless to the same nondiscriminatory standards as wireline access, despite the growing number of libraries, higher education institutions, and users that use wireless technology to access content and information. Additionally, the practice of paid-prioritization must be banned to protect libraries and educational interests from being charged more to provide the public with the same quality of access to their educational and nonprofit content.

Moving forward, the ALA will look to the FCC to address these additional concerns and to provide long-term oversight and enforcement of the rule. In addition, ALA is preparing for significant Congressional activity on net neutrality as two bills seeking to prohibit the FCC from regulating the Internet have already been introduced, H.R. 96 and H.R. 166.

Copyright 2011© American Library Association

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