Despite the Internet’s potential social benefit, a central democratic tenet made possible by the Internet—the ability of educators, librarians, non-profit institutions, and members of the public to voice ideas on par with commercial entities—is in jeopardy if we do not enact safeguards to protect its open structure. The demo- cratic platform provided by the Internet and promoted by libraries will be undermined if network operators are allowed to serve as gatekeepers that can unilaterally decide which content should be relegated to “slow lanes,” or completely block access to original, competing, or non-profit voices. 2. Research Libraries Depend on Access to Diverse Content Offered on the Open Internet to Serve Their Patrons A primary goal of research libraries is to collect, manage, and provide effective long-term access to information and resources in support of research, teaching, and learning. In an increasingly digital world, libraries can only realize this goal if they have access to the diverse content offered over the Internet. Today, much of the new content and services that individuals and institutions develop is available solely or primarily in a digital format on the open Internet. These services and content range from YouTube videos, to data collection sets in open access repositories, to digital versions of political speeches, and much of this traffic requires significant bandwidth for transmission. Libraries and their users need access to a diverse range of content and services to fulfill their academic and research endeavors, and network operators should not be allowed to preemptively define the set of information that consumers use for educational and research purposes. If network operators are allowed to charge tolls for bandwidth, the effect will be to stifle innovative content and services, as well as potentially limit use of infor- mation currently offered over the Internet. In the absence of a non-discrimination rule, network operators could charge different prices for the bandwidth required to deliver content and services to end users. This scenario would result in a “pay to play” environment, where the entities with the most financial resources have access to the users, while others are limited in their ability to provide content and services to consumers. Such an environment would effectively chill speech and limit the availability of new resources to libraries and their patrons. Similarly, network operators might charge end users or content providers for access to particular sites or block access to some sites completely. This scenario RLI 273 14 The Importance of Net Neutrality to Research Libraries in the Digital Age ( C O N T I N U E D ) DECEMBER 2010 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A BIMONTHLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC Libraries have long been champions of intellectual freedom and the democratic process, and it is well recognized that the open Internet serves as a platform for these values.
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