The American Library Association (ALA) affirms that Net Neutrality is essential to the promotion and practice of intellectual freedom and the free exercise of democracy.
Net Neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Under this principle, ISPs should not “throttle” (restrict, impair, or degrade) network speed or traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or mobile devices. Such interference with internet traffic, favoring some sources and limiting others, impedes the free flow of information and profoundly disrupts both the right of individuals to participate in public discourse, and the full functioning of a library.
Libraries, the Library Bill of Rights, and the Internet
In the Library Bill of Rights, ALA affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas. Today most libraries provide internet access, and for many individuals and communities, this is their sole point of access to the internet. Libraries’ provision of internet access opens doors to many important aspects of our culture, including news, social media, job opportunities, entertainment, and civic dialogue and participation. The internet has become not only a source of information, but also a vital platform for self-expression, learning, communication, and political participation. Net Neutrality is a precondition of the open information infrastructure upon which libraries depend, in which all services are accessible on an equitable basis.
Net Neutrality and Democracy
A well-functioning democracy requires an informed citizenry with access to information from many viewpoints and sources, as well as the opportunity to exchange ideas with others through civic engagement. The internet is essential for people to have a voice in the political process and to access the viewpoints of others. Publicly supported institutions such as libraries, universities, and K-12 schools provide equal access to the internet to their community members. Limiting access means users’ rights to participate in democracy are diminished, and the foundation of a nation’s democracy is undermined.
Net Neutrality, Intellectual Freedom, and Censorship
“The freedom to read is of little consequence when the reader cannot obtain matter fit for that reader's purpose. What is needed is not only the absence of restraint, but also the positive provision of opportunity for the people to read the best that has been thought and said.”
In the 21st century, much of the speech in our society and the publications of the press are transmitted via the internet. Net Neutrality ensures that the transmission of all “digital speech” is treated equally, regardless of origin, content, or purpose. Eliminating Net Neutrality would abridge equality of access for those who want to express their ideas and those who choose to receive that information.
Net Neutrality guarantees the right to distribute and receive ideas without limitation or discrimination via the internet. Without the protection of Net Neutrality, tiered access limits diversity and blocks ideas and opinions. Additionally, it creates an internet in which only the companies that can afford to pay more for prioritized access can get their content through to consumers. Allowing ISPs to determine which speech receives priority access and which speech can be delayed, or even blocked, based on commercial and financial interests impairs intellectual freedom. This leads inevitably to censorship of voices without economic or political power.
Article III of the Library Bill of Rights1 states, “Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.” Favoring some sources of information over others effectively suppresses certain viewpoints and activities, such as local news outlets or participation in small social media platforms. Libraries and library users must have access to networks in which all content is treated equitably.
In order to protect intellectual freedom, society must defend the right of every individual to both access and explore any information from all points of view without restriction.
Equitable Access to Ideas and Information
Net Neutrality aligns with ALA’s core value of access to information. Article I of the Library Bill of Rights states, “Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.” If internet services are limited because of their source (as in a competing news agency, application, or entertainment company), or others are favored because of special payments to ISPs, access to the full range of ideas of our society will be compromised. Net Neutrality is the only condition under which equitable access to information can be guaranteed for libraries and all users.
Article IV of the Library Bill of Rights states, “Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.” Many organizations traditionally responsible for delivering access to vital news and civic engagement support Net Neutrality, among them news organizations, journalists, civil liberty groups, and museums. Moreover, hundreds of librarians, in separate filings with the Federal Communications Commission, have expressed their strong defense of the principles of Net Neutrality.
Article V of the Library Bill of Rights states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” Libraries bridge the digital divide, providing the opportunity for even the most disenfranchised people to seek an education, search for jobs, research important issues, and express their views. Net Neutrality ensures that all ISP users, including library users, have access to the broadest possible content, rather than pre-selected, favored content and services that vary according to the location or economic profile of a community.
We acknowledge Council Resolutions in 20062, 20143 the work of the Washington Office4 and other ALA advocacy efforts to defend Net Neutrality. In alignment with ALA’s Code of Ethics, and to fulfill the vision of the Library Bill of Rights, all those using, employed by, or working with libraries should commit to the preservation of and advocacy for Net Neutrality.
- Library Bill of Rights, Adopted June 19, 1939, by the ALA Council; amended October 14, 1944; June 18, 1948; February 2, 1961; June 27, 1967; January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996
- “Resolution Affirming ‘Network Neutrality,’" adopted June 28, 2006
- “Resolution Reaffirming Support for National Open Internet Policies and ‘Network Neutrality,’” adopted July 1, 2014
- “Network Neutrality,” American Library Association
Adopted February 13, 2018, by the ALA Council. Endorsed by the Committee on Legislation, Intellectual Freedom Round Table, Committee on Professional Ethics, American Association of School Librarians, Library Information Technology Association, and IFC Privacy Subcommittee.