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). T he US Supreme Court’s characterization of the web as an enormous library and a platform for speech illuminates the early enthusiasm and hope 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 RLI 273 8 DECEMBER 2010 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
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