Technology, the Internet, and Telecommunications
Last Updated: February 9, 2007
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The term "telecommunications" encompasses a wide range of technologies, but in general we use this term to refer to the transmission of a signal over a voice, data, or wireless network. As libraries seize the opportunity to provide an evolving range of leading-edge technologies and services, telecommunications policy and legislation becomes increasingly important to us.
Please read ALA's Principles for the Networked World (PDF) to get a concise view of how libraries relate to the rapidly growing world of information.
During the 109th Congress, both the House and the Senate drafted bills to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996. With the 110th Congress, the debate will start again on all of the complex issues that were part of the failed telecommunications reform legislation in the previous session. The goal continues to be to update the law in support of advanced broadband deployment that has the potential to impact everything from the transition to digital television to potential revamp of the universal service program. As industry players jockey for position in the broadband market, the legislative process becomes particularly complex. Libraries do not have an interest in all of the issues in the current legislation, but some issues are particularly important and central to library services including the E-rate and network neutrality.
Universal Service Reform
Another bill introduced during the first week of the 110th Congress by Former Senate Commerce Committee Chair, Ted Stevens (R-AK) is on Universal Service Reform (USF). It includes proposals that ALA has supported, notably a permanent exemption for the universal service fund, including the E-rate, from complying with Anti-Deficiency Act (ADA) government accounting rules - rules that froze the fund for several months two years ago. But there are many complex parts of the debate on USF reforms - including how contributions to the fund would be determined, what entities must pay, as well as how to administer and control the program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In one of the first news reports about the 110th Congress' telecommunications agenda, Senator Daniel Inouye (D-AK), new chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, commented that "This is just something Stevens is doing. It is not necessarily indicative of where the majority is going."
ALA's position is that owners and managers of the "pipelines" should not be able to control the content nor switch some information providers to slower "lanes." While many states are addressing this issue now, there is likely to be another effort at the federal level by both sides on this issue. ALA will continue to support effective network neutrality policies that assure freedom of expression on the Internet and for equity for all types of information providers. It is also hoped that any new discussions will be less polarized and able to come to consensus on this difficult and divisive issue.
Related Telecommunications Issues
Still unknown, will be how the 110th Congress will address broadband deployment, national video franchising, and municipal broadband. Without such legislation in the 109th Congress, many states are now taking up these issues, thus making federal legislation moot or harder to complete. The library and school E-rate discounts for traditional telecommunications services has been a priority for ALA, but new ways to promote "big broadband" remains high on ALA's agenda. Within the Washington Office, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) monitors state activities and is seeking resources to support library advocates in the debates in state legislatures or public utility commissions. OITP is also conducting a connectivity study with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For further information about this research see: http://www.ala.org/oitp
ALA's legislative and policy concerns relating to telecommunications and technology of all types are a major part of the Washington Office mandate, and the Washington Office remains active on many telecommunications legislative and policy fronts. Its Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) addresses regulatory, research, and long-term policy implications of universal service, the E-rate, Internet policies, copyright, and other issues. The Office of Government Relations (OGR) works essentially on the same issues but is responsible for the lobbying and related legislative activities of ALA.
For concise printouts of OGR's Telecommunications Briefs from the 2006 Annual Conference and the 2007 Midwinter Meeting - which feature information on network neutrality, E-rate, and Universal Service - please follow the links below:
From August 28-30, 2006, OITP held a meeting on Telecommunications Policy and Libraries.
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