Monday, July 7, 2014

Net Neutrality & Libraries

If you keep up with the news, you've probably heard of the impending "death of net neutrality."

What is net neutrality, you ask? "Net neutrality (also network neutrality or Internet neutrality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication." (Yes, even librarians use Wikipedia). 

As the Washington Post recently reported, "the Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to consider allowing Internet service providers to charge Web sites like Netflix for higher-quality delivery of their content to consumers. In the lead-up to the vote, tech companies, venture capitalists and even celebrities all expressed opposition to the proposal, arguing that it would effectively end the open Internet."

Why should libraries care about the end of net neutrality? Who cares if an Internet service provider pays money to have their content delivered faster to the consumer? 

Well, "[o]ne of the big questions that gets left unasked in the debate between Silicon Valley and the big ISPs is the bigger issue about how this affects the public interest and public institutions. Librarians and educators see [how the] subtle differences in these speeds can make a great difference in how a user receives and uses the information. Even slight slowdowns will have an impact and can potentially limit public access."

The main issue is that "not having a truly open Internet is like privatizing all of the Internet." Without net neutrality, the Internet will be divided into segments and give "those who are able to pay more different access than the general public. We haven't explored the impact this is going to have on public institutions and the real way this will deny access."

We've been lucky enough to have as open of an Internet as possible since its inception (taking search engine algorithms into account), but that could all change. Librarians need to be mindful of the impact on access that this issue could have, and we need to advocate to keep net neutrality. 

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