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Library and Higher Education Groups File Amicus Brief Supporting Net Neutrality

image CC0 by Finn Hackshaw

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) joined with 19 library and higher education organizations yesterday in submitting an amicus brief in Mozilla v. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), emphasizing the importance of an open internet as a bedrock of equitable access to information.

The amicus brief argues in favor of restoring strong net neutrality protections and explains the importance of these rules—particularly no-blocking and no-paid-prioritization rules—for access to information, research, education, and freedom of speech. The brief points out that higher education and library amici have used the internet in innovative ways to better serve students, faculty, and the general public and the FCC’s recent reversal of its Open Internet Order will imperil the public interest mission of these institutions. The brief also highlights the fact that the FCC failed to adequately address issues raised by the library and higher education community during the agency’s rulemaking proceeding.

“Net neutrality operates as a nondiscrimination rule enabling the free and open exchange of ideas, thereby helping libraries and universities fulfill their missions of advancing education, innovation, knowledge creation, and economic growth,” said Mary Ann Mavrinac, president of ARL and vice provost and the Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries. “We urge the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s arbitrary and capricious decision, which failed to take into account harm to internet users, particularly for non-commercial speech. The DC Circuit Court should restore the FCC’s long-standing protections for an open internet.”

The FCC’s repeal of the Open Internet Order, which took effect June 11, 2018, reversed strong net neutrality protections that had been in place since 2015. Because the FCC abandoned rules governing an open internet and abdicated responsibility for enforcement, internet service providers (ISPs) can legally prioritize some voices—those willing and able to pay a premium—over others, such as nonprofit organizations or people holding minority viewpoints. Instead of ensuring that users can access the content of their choosing on an equitable basis, the FCC is now relying solely on market forces to regulate the flow of internet traffic. This will almost certainly lead to many blocking or paid-prioritization arrangements between ISPs and commercial entities.

Technology companies, attorneys general of 22 states and the District of Columbia, and public interest groups are among those that filed the lawsuit against the FCC, challenging the repeal of the Open Internet Order. Petitioners filed briefs on Monday, August 20, including one joint brief of companies, consumer groups, and public interest organizations, and one brief of government petitioners, consisting of 22 state governments, the District of Columbia, County of Santa Clara, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission.

After more than 15 years in favor of protecting the open character of the internet, the FCC has arbitrarily reversed course, issuing a decision unsupported by the record before it. The DC Circuit Court has an opportunity to rectify the agency’s unfortunate decision.

For background on this issue, see the ARL Policy Notes blog and Research Library Issues, no. 293 (2018).

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in Canada and the US whose mission is to advance research, learning, and scholarly communication. The Association fosters the open exchange of ideas and expertise, promotes equity and diversity, and pursues advocacy and public policy efforts that reflect the values of the library, scholarly, and higher education communities. ARL forges partnerships and catalyzes the collective efforts of research libraries to enable knowledge creation and to achieve enduring and barrier-free access to information. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.

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