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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 from The Washington Post declaring the repeal of net neutrality as “official.” It is a bad move that puts 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 state 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. I do not know how libraries will counter the FCC’s decision, but I know we will keep doing what we can to provide the most reliable information to our users.


References

[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.


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