Network neutrality is the concept of online non-discrimination. It is the principle that consumers and 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. Information providers—which may be websites, online services, etc., and who may be affiliated with traditional commercial enterprises but who also may be individual citizens, libraries, schools, or nonprofit entities—should have essentially the same quality of access to distribute their offerings. "Pipe" owners (carriers) should not be allowed to charge some information providers more money for the same pipes, or establish exclusive deals that relegate everyone else (including small noncommercial or startup entities) to an Internet "slow lane." This principle should hold true even when a broadband provider is providing Internet carriage to a competitor.
- Why is net neutrality an issue?
- Why does net neutrality matter to libraries?
- The issue of regulation vs. competition
- Where can I find out more?
Net neutrality was a founding principle of the Internet. It is a principle incorporates both the common carrier laws that have long governed the phone lines used for both voice telephone and dial-up access. Now, many consumers receive broadband service over other technologies (cable, DSL) that are not subject to the same common-carriage requirements. While these technologies are unquestionably superior to dial-up, the lack of enforceable net neutrality principles concerns us. Cable and DSL companies are planning to engage in “bit discrimination” by providing faster connections to websites and services that pay a premium, or by preferring their own business partners when delivering content. As the Internet moves forward, is it really wise to leave net neutrality behind?
The American Library Association is a strong advocate for intellectual freedom, which is the “right of all peoples to seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” Intellectual freedom is critical to our democracy because we rely on people’s ability to inform themselves. The Internet connects people of diverse geographical, political, or ideological origins, greatly enhancing everyone’s ability to share and to inform both themselves and others.
Our libraries’ longstanding commitment to freedom of expression in the realm of content is well-known; in the context of the net neutrality debate, however, we believe it is equally important to stress that the freedom of libraries and librarians to provide innovative new kinds of information services will be central to the growth and development of our democratic culture. A world in which librarians and other non-commercial 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 all citizens to inform themselves and each other just as much as the major commercial and media interests can inform them.
With modern technology, individuals and small groups can produce rich audio and video resources that used to be the exclusive domain of large companies. We must work to ensure that these resources are not relegated to second-class delivery on the Internet—or else the intellectual freedoms fostered by the Internet will be constrained.
One application that libraries are especially invested in is distance learning. Classes offered using audio and video streamed over the Internet have huge potential to bring expert teachers into the homes of students around the globe.
Some of the carriers argue that net neutrality is an unnecessary regulation that will stifle competition and slow deployment of broadband technologies. But the truth is there is already only a little competition among broadband providers. In most parts of the U.S., there are at most two companies that provide a broadband pipe to your home: a telephone company and a cable company. Both of these industries are already regulated because they are natural monopolies: once a cable is laid to your house, there really is no rational, non-wasteful reason to lay another cable to your house, since you only need one at a time; therefore, most communities only allow one cable or telephone company to provide service to an area, and then regulate that company so to prevent abuse of the state-granted monopoly. Thus, we don’t allow phone companies to charge exorbitant amounts for local service; nor do we permit a cable company to avoid providing service to poor neighborhoods.
Contrast the quasi-monopoly on broadband pipes with the intensely competitive market of web content and services. There are millions of websites out there and countless hours of video and audio, all competing for your time and money.
With the advent of broadband connections, the telecom and cable companies have found a new way to exploit their state-granted monopoly: leverage it into a market advantage in Internet services and content. This would harm competition in the dynamic, innovative content and services industry without solving the lack of real competition in the broadband access market.
In contrast, net neutrality will encourage competition in online content and services to stay strong. By keeping broadband providers from raising artificial price barriers to competition, net neutrality will preserve the egalitarian, bit-blind principles that have made the Internet the most competitive market in history.
The American Library Association supports net neutrality legislation that preserves the competitive online markets for content and services. Bandwidth and access should be offered on equal terms to all willing to pay. Otherwise, broadband providers will be free to leverage their quasi-monopolies into lucrative but market-distorting agreements. The vitality of voices on the Internet is critical to the intellectual freedom that libraries around the world are trying to protect and promote. Laws that preserve net neutrality are the best way to preserve a vibrant diversity of viewpoints into the foreseeable future.
- ALA, AALL, and CLOSA file comments with FCC
- Librarian Speaks with Rep. Eshoo at Net Neutrality Roundtable
- Help Save Internet Fairness
- Internet Association Debunks Claims that Strong Net Neutrality Protections Hurt Internet Investment
- The Next Move for Net Neutrality
- ALA Adds Name to Keep the Net Neutral
- Happy Anniversary, Open Internet Order
- Look Back, Move Forward: Network Neutrality
- News to Watch: Net Neutrality Oral Arguments Take Place December 4
- ALA, ARL, EDUCAUSE Oppose “End run” to Limit FCC Net Neutrality Authority (pdf)
- ALA, ACRL, ARL, COSLA File Network Neutrality amicus
- ALA President Courtney Young, ACRL President Karen Williams Column “The Bandwidth Battle” in April 2015 Currents magazine (pdf)
- Net Neutrality Battle Continues in New Venues
- ALA Applauds FCC Vote to Protect Open Internet
- House Committee Holds Hearing on Network Neutrality
- ALA Welcomes Strong Net Neutrality Protections Proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
- ALA Welcomes President Obama's Strong Affirmation of Net Neutrality
- Network Neutrality Update (11-7-14)
- Add Your Voice to FCC Public Comment on Network Neutrality
- ACRL Keeping Up With...Net Neutrality
- ALA, ACRL File Network Neutrality Comments with FCC
- Higher Education, Library Groups Release Net Neutrality Principles
- Vermont State Librarian Testifies about the Importance of Open Internet at Senate Hearing
- ALA Prepares to Help Protect the Open Internet
- Game on (Redux) for Network Neutrality
- ALA, ARL and EDUCAUSE Re-engage FCC on Network Neutrality
- Joint Library, Higher Education Letter to FCC Chairman on Open Internet (pdf)
- Why Net Neutrality’s Demise Hurts the Poor Most
- ALA Troubled by Court’s Net Neutrality Decision
- Anti-net Neutrality Bill Defeated in the U.S. Senate
- ALA Urges House Energy and Commerce Committee to Preserve FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision
- ALA Washington Office Summary of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Order (pdf)