On net neutrality and intellectual freedom

| February 23, 2014

The Washington, DC, Court of Appeals ruling on January 14th states that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to impose so-called “net neutrality” rules on Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In the article “Court strikes down net neutrality: FCC blocking, discrimination rules invalidated” from February 15, 2014, Ian Chant explains that this decision marks a potentially major shift in the way Internet access is regulated in the United States. These concerns may have been avoided if the FCC had initially defined ISPs as telecommunications companies under the provisions of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In not defining ISPs in this way, there are consequences. The ruling states that, “Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.” The court found that the FCC overstepped its bounds as a regulator in putting those rules in place. If the ruling stands, it would open the door for ISPs to work with content providers to provide faster access to their content, creating what some maintain would lead to a two-tier Internet, with large providers that can afford to pay for preferential treatment forming a top tier while other online resources make do with leftover bandwidth.

Given that the Internet has became a primary means for accessing information, services and applications, the Court’s ruling is potentially threatening to the way information is accessed at libraries. If ISPs act as gatekeepers, which this ruling would permit, it could threaten the intellectual freedom that libraries have championed.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the Court’s ruling will influence the way information is accessed at libraries? Should educators be concerned with net neutrality and its affect on intellectual freedom?

Source: Chant, Ian. “Court strikes down net neutrality: FCC blocking, discrimination rules invalidated.” Library Journal 15 Feb. 2014: 12+. Popular Magazines. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.