Why the FCC Needs to Hear from Librarians

by Katherine Kimball Adelberg, Head Editor, INALJ Michigan

Why the FCC Needs to Hear from Librarians

Katherine Kimball AdelbergThis summer, the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) is debating one of the Internet’s founding principles: net neutrality. They’re also giving you a chance to participate.

The FCC might appear to be a dinosaur of federal bureaucracy, but they have one redeeming quality: they accept written comments from anyone. Not only can anyone comment, but the Commissioners listen. As a state E-rate coordinator, I monitor and contribute comments on the ongoing E-rate reform process. When issues are raised, the Commissioners have respond.

The FCC has received almost 200,000 comments on net neutrality to date. With so many individuals (and corporations) weighing in, why should the library community get involved?

Librarians offer a unique perspective on the impact of proposed “fast lanes”. We create and curate digital content and act as Internet service provider of last resort (especially in public libraries).

What would happen to library-created content (or any educational content) under this proposal? How would this affect customers whose only connection to the Internet occurs in the library? How would it affect freedom of speech? Scholarly communication? Access to information? These are just a few of the aspects of this proposal that are core issues of librarianship.

Fortunately, ALA’s Washington Office and Office for Information and Technology Policy (OITP) have been tracking net neutrality developments very closely. They’ve already written about their response on the District Dispatch blog, and have been interviewed in the Washington Post. ALA has contributed a letter with EDUCAUSE and the Association of Research Libraries, and will contribute more detailed comments on its own.

What can librarians do to help?

1. Write comments and submit them to openinternet@fcc.gov. The deadline for the first round of comments is July 15th. The second round of comments, an opportunity to reply to what has already been posted, will be due by August 15th.

2. Encourage your state association or state library to contribute comments. Does your state have an Intellectual Freedom Committee? Get in touch and offer to help. Comments from individuals are meaningful, but comments from associations and groups are even more powerful.

3. Write in support of the letter from ALA, ARL, and EDUCAUSE. Specifically stating that you support their letter magnifies its impact.

4. Monitor news sources like ALA’s District Dispatch or the Washington Post’s The Switch blog. Once ALA has posted their full comments, reply with a letter of support. The deadline for reply comments is August 15th.

A few things to consider:

● Anything submitted will be publicly available online via the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. This includes your name (if you file as an individual) and email address.

● AT&T has already filed comments and met in person with FCC staff five times. Representatives from Verizon have met with FCC staff three times. Comcast has filed a letter. Why shouldn’t you?

● The FCC’s Chairman Wheeler is not a dingo.

The Commissioners are struggling to find a way to preserve net neutrality. Earlier this year the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. struck down provisions in the FCC’s Open Internet Order, ruling that the FCC had not chosen the proper legal framework to justify its enforcement of net neutrality. The principles of net neutrality are still valid, but the method of achieving it was unsound.

Librarians, let the FCC know what net neutrality means to you! The Commissioners will not hear about our needs and those of our customers unless we speak to them directly. Contact them at openinternet@fcc.gov and let them know where we stand.