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ARL Urges Federal Communications Commission to Preserve an Open Internet

Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik, image CC-BY-NC-SA by The Q

Maintaining an open Internet is central to the nonprofit mission of America’s research libraries. The 123 members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) undertake cutting-edge research and create information platforms that are, in turn, building blocks for other innovations that reverberate throughout the public and private sectors. This work depends upon open, fast, broadband Internet access services. Additionally, strong network neutrality rules are necessary to protect libraries’ and library patrons’ substantial First Amendment rights to use the Internet as a medium of free expression.

Amplifying these convictions, the Association of Research Libraries submitted reply comments today, August 29, 2017, to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in support of strong net neutrality rules to ensure that the innovation and collaboration occurring in our institutions can continue to flourish. ARL’s reply comments caution the FCC against abandoning its strongest source of authority to adopt robust net neutrality rules: Title II of the Communications Act. At the heart of the matter lies a conundrum: if the FCC relies solely on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, stronger rules are more vulnerable in court. If the FCC responds to this vulnerability and adopts relatively weak rules, the commission shifts the risk to consumers—including libraries and library users—exposing them to abusive practices by Internet service providers (ISPs).

In 2015, the FCC set forth its Open Internet Order, which assured that ISPs would not be able to create “fast lanes”—designated for those willing and able to pay a premium—and “slow lanes” for everyone else. The order reclassified the Internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act and also relied on the FCC’s authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to provide a firm legal basis to protect net neutrality. The FCC, under new leadership, is now seeking to reverse or amend the 2015 order.

After reviewing the record in this proceeding with an eye toward adopting practical, non-ideological solutions, the Association is convinced that the wisest course is to maintain the FCC’s existing Open Internet Order. The commission is fully empowered to affirm the 2015 net neutrality policy, which is consistent with the net neutrality principles endorsed by library and higher education groups. Furthermore, the Association asserts that the FCC can maintain such a policy without materially harming the investment incentives of ISPs and can be rightly proud that it has adopted a policy that puts consumers—instead of any particular industry segment—at the center of its approach to restoring Internet freedom.

“An open Internet is essential to the role of research libraries as innovation hubs and Internet access points,” said Mary Case, ARL president and university librarian and dean of libraries at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Net neutrality also protects libraries’ and library patrons’ First Amendment rights to free expression. The Association of Research Libraries encourages the FCC to uphold strong net neutrality rules, which ensure that intellectual freedoms, such as education, research, free speech, and innovation, can continue to thrive.”

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 123 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.