The Importance of
Net Neutrality to
Research Libraries
in the Digital Age
Kristen Riccard, Law and Policy Fellow, ARL
Introduction: The Internet at a Crossroads
The Web is comparable, from the readers’ viewpoint, to both a
vast library including millions of readily available and indexed
publications and a sprawling mall offering goods and services.
From the publishers’ point of view, it constitutes a vast platform
from which to address and hear from a world wide audience of
millions of readers, viewers, researchers, and buyers… Publishers
include government agencies, educational institutions,
commercial entities, advocacy groups, and individuals.
—Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997).
he US Supreme Court’s characterization of the web as an enormous
library and a platform for speech illuminates the early enthusiasm and
for social benefit that our nation placed in the Internet. But today,
many believe that the future of the Internet is at a crossroads—one that requires a
reexamination of the Internet’s current purpose and an evaluation of the role it
should play going forward. This crossroads has sparked the “net neutrality”
debate, and the outcome will determine whether the Internet continues to
remain a platform for all to share and access information or becomes more of a
commercial commodity where the deepest pockets receive the greatest benefits.
“Net neutrality” is the principle that Internet users should have the right to
access and provide content and use services via the Internet as they wish, and
that network operators should not be allowed to “discriminate”—slow, block, or
charge fees—for Internet traffic based on the source or content of its message. As
a result of developments in Internet technology, network operators now have the
ability to discriminate among traffic and can choose to slow or block the flow of
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