Over the past month, Net Neutrality has become front page news again and this time around it could potentially be the beginning of the end of the Internet (at least in the U.S.) as we know it.
But let's back up a second: what is Net Neutrality and why is it so important?
In its most basic terms, it is the idea of an open, accessible, and "neutral" Internet available to all users, application providers, and network carriers. Currently, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon treat all online traffic running through their "pipes" equally and all content providers—from Netflix to Google to Free Library of Philadelphia—do not receive preferential treatment in regards to how people access their content.
Need a visual analogy? Check out the video below from this recent New York Times article:
What happened last week is unfortunately what is so troubling: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted for a proposal that would allow a so-called “fast lane” through which companies and content providers (who can afford it) would be able to pay for higher priority service, essentially creating a two-tiered system of delivery content. This virtual "pay to play" plan would mean a company like Netflix could hypothetically pay Comcast to make sure their television shows and movies get to their customers viewing devices faster than a video or song or website from another content provider traveling in the "slow lane". Oh wait, that already happened.
Complicating matters, ISPs would potentially have the ability to censor content and block access to certain websites, applications, and services; essentially having the power to control the flow of information by selling access to the highest bidder. The cost, both monetarily and literally, would be passed along to consumers.
The outlook for libraries if Net Neutrality is abolished is potentially more catastrophic. This Washington Post article spells out some of the possible outcomes including slower network and Internet connection speeds, as well as difficulty accessing vital database information and online resources. As a country we are already dealing with a digital divide, one that libraries across the nation are trying to help remedy. The demolition of Net Neutrality would further challenge not only libraries, but also schools and other non-profits ability to offer access to digital learning tools and services to those who need it most.
The FCC's proposal is currently open for public discussion through September 12, 2014 (120 days).
Here's what you can do to help and make your voice heard:
In the meantime, the Free Library will continue to keep our customers and patrons informed on this important matter.
Join in the conversation below in the comments!