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Research Libraries Need a Strong FCC

Last Updated on July 16, 2010, 1:56 pm ET

Today the Association of Research Libraries, along with the American Library Association and EDUCAUSE, filed comments in support of the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed “third way” forward for broadband regulation. You can read those comments here (PDF).

We’ve blogged previously about the importance of FCC authority over broadband and the consequences of the Comcast decision. As we said then, the court in Comcast rejected the legal strategy the FCC had taken during the George W. Bush administration, but did not decide once-and-for-all whether the FCC could regulate broadband access providers under a different rationale.

The court left the door open, but unless the FCC could articulate a new, stronger argument for its authority, the communications platform of the 21st Century would operate with less oversight than the market for mortgage-backed securities in the years leading to the current recession. The outcome could be equally disastrous for the Internet ecosystem.

“[internet is not everything, get out of home]”

Photo CC-BY courtesy Marco Gomes

Luckily, Chairman Genachowski acted swiftly to articulate what he calls a “third way” to provide necessary oversight of broadband providers that stand between the public and the Internet. Neither as weak as the theory struck down in Comcast, nor as burdensome as the full panoply of regulations that applied to the Bell telephone monopoly, the third way is a “light touch.” It allows the FCC to preserve network neutrality and encourage broadband deployment, but does not threaten network operators with micro-management. Cable and telephone companies are free to make a profit on their networks so long as they follow basic rules of fairness.

ARL filed comments yesterday, along with the American Library Association and EDUCAUSE, because the stakes for research libraries are serious. As an association of libraries, ARL believes in the free flow of information, so a network bogged down with trolls and gatekeepers is simply unacceptable. And in practice research libraries need a neutral Internet so that we can access important resources and, at the same time, provide important resources to our communities without fear of discrimination. Research institutions also need the bold leadership embodied in the National Broadband Plan to encourage wider distribution of next generation broadband. While Congress appears to be taking up this issue, there is no reason for the FCC to delay making policy that can serve as a necessary “spare tire” until comprehensive Internet legislation can be written and passed.