Net Neutrality is the concept that the whole internet runs at the same speed no matter what. Under President Obama, the FCC enacted the Open Internet Order (OIO) in 2015 to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. From video chat to torrenting and everything in between, there are countless applications and websites that take full advantage of the universal speeds. According to ALA, libraries and their users have benefitted from this framework.
Ajit Pai, appointed by President Trump as the new FCC chairman is seeking to end the OIO, loosening regulations so that, should they choose, ISPs can charge websites more to use faster speeds. How will this affect the libraries and educational institutions who are not providing information for a profit?
Libraries are not in a position to keep up with big companies who could pay for the highest speeds. If libraries want to be able to take advantage of new technologies like HD video, interactive tutorials, etc., these efforts will be (literally) slowed without net neutrality.
But there are economic factors too. A study done by Impact Survey found that 98% of library patrons had used a library computer within the past year. Even though most people have access to the internet on their own, there are many people who rely on libraries. If it becomes possible to prioritize internet speeds, it will negatively affect these people.
When interviewed, Alison Macrina, director of the Library Freedom Project, expressed her pessimism about changes to net neutrality. “Since we serve so many members of the public who are poor, who get most of their internet services through the library already, this is going to further drive that divide. Not only will we be contending with possible slower speeds in our own buildings, but we’ll probably see an influx of patrons who now are even further shut out of high-speed broadband.”
The FCC received a record 10 million+ comments in favor of the OIO during the open comment period, which ended on July 17th. While the period for open comments has now closed, advocates can still appeal to their members of congress to draft legislation protecting net neutrality.