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A Threat to Democracy: The End of Net Neutrality

by on May 10, 2018

As I researched this blog post, I found an interesting article in the The Washington Post declaring the repeal of net neutrality as “official.” This is a bad move that will put a dent in ensuring equitable access to information. Librarians and many others are concerned, and citizens should be too. The Verge’s Kaitlyn Tiffany interviewed two New York Public Library employees who summarized what’s at stake pretty well. They stated that the end of net neutrality “would contribute to inequality of education and opportunity, widening ‘the already yawning digital divide’.”1 I couldn’t agree more. It also creates the perfect conditions for censorship, and controlling the amount of information and what kind of information people can access.

Many patrons use libraries to access the internet for personal research, homework, or applying for jobs.2 Without free internet access, some of these folks will be at a huge disadvantage. I’m not trying to be a conspiracy theorist, but, there have been numerous historical instances of governments, or larger entities like corporations, acquiring the means to spread propaganda and questionable information to further their own ends. This can be a slow, insidious way to “brainwash,” or to use a gentler term, “influence,” the opinions of the people. Sometimes, they aren’t subtle about it either. So, who’s to say these companies will not be biased with the information they will allow us to access. They are in it for profit, so how will the pricing be determined? Are they going to set limits on the number of users the way publishers set limits on the number of e-book downloads? It is too early to know, but the issue here is that the door has been opened. Most importantly, “if you curtail people’s access to information…they will not be able to inform themselves as citizens.”3 An informed citizenry is a fundamental principle of our democracy, and librarianship. The end of net neutrality is a threat to our democracy, even if the signs are not yet clear.

ALA On the Front Lines

ALA has been fighting this battle for years:

“The American Library Association has been on the front lines of advocating for net neutrality with the FCC, Congress, and the federal courts for more than a decade. Much of this work is done in cooperation with other library and higher education organizations, as well as broader coalitions of net neutrality advocates. In addition to the comments of ALA, thousands of librarians and library staff from across the country filed comments to the FCC on their own or via ALA’s action alerts as part of coordinated days of action. This action has spread to Congress, as the library community has used ALA’s action alert center to contact their members of Congress to urge action. ALA seeks strong, enforceable policies that prohibit blocking, throttling, degrading or paid prioritization of internet traffic.”4

Update 5/24/18

On May 16, 2018, the U.S. Senate voted to keep net neutrality protections in place, overturning the FCC’s December, 2017, decision to overturn the Open Internet Order. The issue now moves to the House of Representatives.  You can help by continuing to tell your members of Congress (or thanking them!) that net neutrality is critical to the modern library and our communities through ALA’s Action Alert.


[1] Kaitlyn Tiffany, “What public libraries will lose without net neutrality,” December 14, 2017, The Verge, https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/14/16772582/public-libraries-net-neutrality-broadband-access-first-amendment

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Net Neutrality -Frequently Asked Questions” Prepared by Robert Bocher, Senior Fellow
ALA Washington Office, April 2018. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/sites/ala.org.advocacy/files/content/telecom/netneutrality/ALA%20Network%20Neutrality%20FAQ.pdf

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