The FCC, in December of last year, by a 3-2 margin, approved of new rules in regards to “net neutrality” and the ability of ISPs to act as “gate-keepers” of the internet. The new rules ban blocking of legal content, but allow ISPs to “reasonably” manage their own traffic, as well as charge extra for a higher end level of usage, a paid-for HOV lane if you will. Affected companies both criticize and support the rules, yet legal action may tie them up in court for years. This “balanced” take on net neutrality seems mighty ambiguous to me regarding what is “reasonable” and what “legal” content is, as well as allowing for paid-for higher access. While FCC Chairman Genachowski says that this will cause little change for consumers, this is not necessarily a good thing.
Since the passing of the rules, which go into effect early this year (2011), the FCC has also launched an “open internet challenge” to prompt software developers to create apps that inform users of ISP interference with content. The apps could spur research that would provide data to academics and lawmakers in regards to ISP “gate-keeping”. While seemingly amiable, what concerns me is that this is in response to the ambiguous, unsatisfying compromise that the rules seem to represent.
How does this new set of “net neutrality” rules concern the library field? Looking at the objectives of a research library for example, an ISP’s hindrance of Internet traffic, the slowing or blocking of content, would undermine the goal of providing access to information and the library’s various resources. As well, a “pay-to-play” scenario would limit particular high bandwidth resources that the library’s patrons might find critical. In addition, off campus users of library resources might be harmed by limited access online.