fundamental change in many marketplace models, and led to dependency
by all sectors on a robust and non-discriminatory network. In a recent book,
Steven Johnson refers to the “fourth quadrant: the space of collaborative,
nonproprietary innovation, exemplified in recent years by the Internet and
the Web, [which]…turns out to have generated more world-changing ideas
than the competitive sphere of the marketplace.”1
Today, research libraries depend on the Internet in several fundamental
ways. First, research libraries are providers of content, services, and applications
on the Internet. Second, research libraries rely on an open Internet to collaborate
and obtain services and content from other sources and vendors. Finally,
libraries rely upon the Internet to support and promote free speech and
democratic values. A non-discriminatory network is central to the ability of
research libraries to meet user information needs in support of research,
teaching, and learning.
The phrase “network neutrality” is described simply: every network
operator that provides Internet access to the public must allow every user to
access and use content, applications, and services of her choice on the Internet
without interference or discrimination.2 This “neutrality,” or non-discrimination
principle, has a history in telecommunications law that long predates the
Internet and was a critical element in the development of a nationwide long-
distance voice telephony network almost 100 years ago.
As described by Kristen Riccard in her article in this issue of RLI on the
importance of network neutrality to research libraries and academic institutions,
recent legal challenges and technological advances, as well as market forces and
actions by network operators, have called into question the fundamental
openness of the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
members of Congress, network providers, consumers, public interest groups,
libraries, higher education, and others have focused on how to best achieve
network neutrality. A recent court case, Comcast v. FCC, held that the FCC lacked
the authority to enforce net neutrality principles against network operators who
provide broadband access. Following this decision by the DC Circuit Court of
Appeals, there has been a greater sense of urgency to enact, either through
regulation or legislation, network neutrality principles. Riccard reviews the
history of network neutrality, its criticality to research libraries, and the
increasingly contentious debates in Washington over how best to ensure a free
and open Internet. She concludes that the availability of low-cost, high-speed,
RLI 273
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Three Key Public Policies for Research Libraries
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DECEMBER 2010 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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