Informed Librarian Online -- A Bit of Bytes --

Net Neutrality

by Jenna Kammer

There has been much talk about net neutrality and what the new FCC regulations will mean for libraries. In December, the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, won approval for a plan that would remove the regulations for companies that provide Internet access to the public. These regulations (net neutrality) have set the stage for how we use the Internet today. Net neutrality ensured that the companies that provide internet service (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc) are not able to control the data that you receive.

There has already been a lot written on what the elimination of net neutrality could do to the internet that we are used to receiving, like slowing down service (“the slow lane”) for certain sites, or charging extra for others (“the fast lane”). But what will deregulation mean for libraries and the people who use them? Net neutrality has always been a position of libraries and ALA has maintained their advocacy page on net neutrality for a while:

Net neutrality is a policy that ensures information gets to as many people as possible in an equitable way. When my teenager came home asking me to write our Senator about keeping net neutrality rules, I knew that this policy that I had studied as an information studies doctoral student had finally hit home with the public as well. For my teenager, loss of the services he loves (like high bandwidth for streaming games, music and video) would affect his way of life! He feared that without net neutrality, we would end up with internet models like what Portugal (a country without Internet regulation) does with their mobile plans: package bundles of services (email and cloud for example) at different prices. In addition, the concern that internet providers can steer users to their own content (imagine that Comcast buys Netflix, and then blocks its customers access to Amazon Prime...) is also a major intellectual freedom threat.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about what the loss of net neutrality will mean for libraries. Many suggested that it actually will increase traffic to libraries as citizens will not be able to afford internet at home anymore. I enjoyed this article from The Verge about the actual amount of internet usage that happens in libraries, and through Internet access materials like wifi hot spots that can be checked out for use at home. In addition, libraries offer those services that my teenager worries about too—ebooks, audio, video, and gaming. Librarians are worrying that these services will have to be downgraded should ISP’s decide to implement pricing that makes them unaffordable for a library that is also getting budgets slashed.

Obviously, the issues of free speech, academic freedom and information equity are central to the discussion around net neutrality from the library perspective. Making information available, and allowing its users to choose where they get the information is important to intellectual freedom. In addition, extra costs could prevent public institutions like schools and libraries from having access to the fastest speeds. Google and Amazon have both said that a slowdown of just one second could result in a loss of millions of dollars (and 8 million hits). In addition, this could affect access to scholarly journals, ebooks and any video content that is part of the library collection.

I also found an article from the Washington Post in 2004 about what the loss of net neutrality would mean for libraries. Libraries have been worrying about losing net neutrality for over 10 years. Several companies have come out to say that their services would not be affected by de-regulation. For example, Netflix is big enough that it has already been negotiating payments with Comcast for delivery of content. Most likely, it is the smaller companies that will be affected the most. For now, we are all just waiting to see how this plays out and hope we can continue to enjoy the Internet. I will say that when I wrote our state Senator (R) about de-regulation concerns, he replied saying that while it’s important for free and open internet, he felt that net neutrality imposed unnecessary laws and stifled innovation. Supporters of net neutrality feel that innovation will be stifled without it.

Copyright 2017 by Jenna Kammer.

About the author:
My name is Jenna Kammer,, and I am the author of this column. I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Missouri in the Library Science program. I have an MLS from the University of Arizona and a MA in Education from New Mexico State University. My PhD is from the University of Missouri where I studied information policy and technology in academic environments.