ARL and Eleven Other Library and Higher Education Organizations File Reply Comments on Net Neutrality

On Monday, September 15, 2014, twelve library and higher education organizations, including ARL, filed reply comments with the FCC on net neutrality in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to protect and promote the open Internet. The FCC issued the NPRM following the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s January 2014 decision striking down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order’s rules on no-blocking and anti-discrimination . Eleven of these organizations previously filed comments as well as net neutrality principles in July; the reply comments recommend that the FCC adopt the principles and strategies contained in these prior filings. In the reply comments, these groups continue emphasizing the importance of net neutrality in protecting free speech, educational achievement and economic growth. While the initial comments pointed out that the FCC could use its legal authority to reclassify broadband Internet services as a Title II “common carrier” or exercise its Section 706 authority, the reply comments focus on options under Section 706.

The comments point out the importance of the open Internet, also known as net neutrality, so that these institutions can carry out their missions and promote education, research and learning. The twelve organizations ask the FCC to “take special heed” of the importance of net neutrality for library and higher education institutions pointing out:

We are not aware of any commenters who disagreed with the importance of an open Internet for education, research, and learning. In fact, the New America Foundation specifically recognized the importance of an open Internet for schools, libraries and other public institutions.

At the same time, few commenters called attention to these needs, and the NPRM does not focus on these issues as much as it could. As an example, we note that the opening paragraph of the PRM released on May 15, 2014, does not use any of the words “education,” research” or learning.” … Recognizing the important public interest in education, research and learning throughout the FCC’s final order will help the commission orient its net neutrality policy in a way that recognizes these cherished public interest values.

The comments also note the concerns that without net neutrality, paid prioritization may occur as broadband providers would have the incentive and opportunity to divide the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes based on the ability or willingness to pay for enhanced access. The coalition of library and higher education institutions emphasize that, “If public broadband providers are allowed to prioritize or degrade certain Internet traffic, or discriminate in favor of or against certain content or applications, the future of the Internet as a platform for education, research learning, innovation and free speech will be put in jeopardy.”

Specifically, libraries and higher education institutions depend on the open Internet as they increasingly rely on access to and storage of information remotely, including subscriptions to online-only resources; serve as centers where people complete online education courses; act as partners with the Internet Archive to digitize and make accessible various materials; use the portal developed by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to allow patrons to search and scan resources; and transition to cloud-based productivity application services to support faculty and student access to email, word processing and related applications as well as for administrative and learning management systems.

The comments also suggest that in addressing a no-blocking rule, the FCC could require that when a broadband provider chooses to offer Internet service, that provider must then fulfill the consumer’s decision to interact with his or her chosen edge provider and cannot block such access. This rule focuses on consumer choice, but does not obligate the broadband provider to serve every consumer as the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order’s no-blocking rule did. This suggestion provides an alternative path for the FCC than a rule that would require providing a minimum level of service.

Building on the July filing, the reply comments again encourage the FCC to adopt an “Internet reasonable” standard to govern the relationship between broadband providers and edge providers rather than the FCC’s proposed “commercially reasonable” standard. Numerous groups and organizations, such as the Center for Democracy & Technology, Free Press, Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation, the Internet Association, the Communications and Computer Industry Association (CCIA), among others, have opposed the “commercially reasonable” standard because such a standard would likely be ineffective in preserving net neutrality. The reply comments suggest that an “Internet reasonable” standard would provide a more tailored approach that would evaluate impact on the Internet ecosystem. Additionally, the reply comments again propose that the FCC establish clear presumptions, such as against paid prioritization, on conduct that would violate the “Internet reasonable” standard.

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