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
The Importance of Net Neutrality to Research Libraries in the Digital Age
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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