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Net Neutrality repeal, and what this means for you

December 29, 2017 – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on Dec. 14 to repeal rules set in place to regulate the broadband providers. The regulations the FCC repealed include prohibitions against broadband providers blocking websites, and charging more for higher quality internet service, or paying more for certain content. The FCC also eliminated a rule that bars providers from prioritizing their own content.

The repeal will take weeks to go into effect, so consumers are not expected to see much of an impact yet. But because only a handful of massive companies provide internet service, there are concerns that these providers will drive up costs through such actions as “bundling.” For example, consumers may have to pay more for a “social media” package, to access sites like Facebook and Twitter. In addition, the internet giants like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon, may develop a premium “fast lane,” offering a pay-to-play deal to businesses and households that can afford higher costs, relegating everyone else to a hypothetical slow lane. Such a construct would not only be frustrating to users, it could also prove to be detrimental to small businesses.

Institutions like public libraries have issued strong statements in support of net neutrality. The Mid-Continent Public Library is a member of the American Library Association, which describes itself as a “strong advocate for intellectual freedom.” The ALA believes such freedom is necessary to democracy itself, since a democracy relies upon people’s ability to remain informed. The internet acts as an equalizer, and allows people of all backgrounds to both share and receive information.

Steve Potter, Library Directory and CEO of Mid-Continent Public Library, believes there are several points of concern with the recent repeal of net neutrality. To begin with, he believes that Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, along with others in favor of the repeal, haven’t correctly categorized the intent of internet users.

“First, many people, including Chairman Pai, are wrong when they characterize the internet as infrastructure for leisure and luxury activity, like taking pictures of your food, shopping online and watching streamed video.  One thing we learned following the 2008 economic downturn is that the internet is not a luxury. Many families cut back or eliminated their internet service as the economy slowed, and people lost jobs. But what those people found was that it was virtually impossible to apply for a job, apply for benefits, or even retrain yourself for new work without access to the internet. The choice to cancel internet was really closer to a decision to eliminate the power or water service in your home…but people didn’t realize that at the time. I suspect our reliance on the internet for interactions like job searching, interacting with schools or other services and the like is even more fundamental than it was in 2008,” Potter said.

Steve Potter, Library Directory and CEO of Mid-Continent Public Library

Steve Potter, Library Directory and CEO of Mid-Continent Public Library

As information has gone from print to digital, internet has allowed the public library to remain relevant with the public, Potter explained. He views the internet as a delivery method, a new way to approach what libraries have always done, which is to share ideas and information. The repeal of net neutrality threatens to disrupt this delivery system. He doesn’t believe that the removal of regulations will, for instance, result in innovation or invention or investment by the communications companies, as those who are for the repeal argue.

“There have been arguments that if this regulation was removed, communication companies would invest more heavily in the internet infrastructure,” Potter began. “First, understand that the USA has some of the slowest internet in the developed world. Most homes in Europe have gig internet already, and part of this is due to regulations requiring the companies to treat access equally. The other issue is that before the regulations, companies only invested where there was a market to do so.”

This has been evident locally, Potter explained. “So, in the MCPL footprint, for instance, we couldn’t get a business grade DSL circuit in Grandview, Raytown or Excelsior Springs when we first installed Wi-Fi because AT&T wouldn’t upgrade the circuits, because they claimed there weren’t enough people to buy it. While this argument does correlate with our capitalism, the problem is that it creates places where the more affluent have opportunities that the working class and middle class may not have. Even when schools and libraries decide they do want to buy the service and provide it – like we did – the company wouldn’t upgrade and wouldn’t sell it to us. This is where my greatest concern lies.  If the past is prologue, we will have situations where MCPL will want to update and upgrade in places and will not be allowed to because the local telecom provider will see more profitability in adding more bandwidth to places like Lee’s Summit or Leawood, as opposed to doing a simple upgrade in Excelsior Springs.  That is exactly what happened before the regulations were established.”

Potter also expressed concern that if there is a “pay-to-play” element introduced, libraries may not be able to access the more expensive “fast” lane, thus impacting their effectiveness to provide access to intellectual content to the public.

“If there is a fast lane that costs more and a slow lane that costs less, I fear that libraries won’t be able to afford the fast lane,” Potter stated. “That means the information we license and make available to our public, like Live Homework Help from or the resources we provide so people can start small businesses, will be relegated to the slow lane. We already have a problem that unverified ‘information’ and ‘fake news’ often find their way to the top of a Google search result as opposed to the high-quality resources we provide. I fear this issue could be even worse without net neutrality protection.”

In the end, it becomes an issue of truth and facts, and whether or not one can afford to have access to it. Information will be spread dependent upon who can afford to spread it, rather than what is being spread is actually true or not.

“People with money can buy access. This means some ideas will be relegated to the ‘slow lane.’ The issue will not be whether the information is accurate or the truth; the issue will be whether the message creator has the money to widely distribute it…whether the information is true or not. That’s a problem for free people.”

The library is there for everyone, Potter stressed. And everyone uses it. Mid-Continent Public Library, had 542,548 computer sessions and 368,574 Wi-Fi sessions in fiscal year 2016 – 2017. The Excelsior Springs Branch had 12,808 computer sessions and 11,475 Wi-Fi sessions in fiscal year 2016 – 2017.

By Samantha Kilgore •

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One Response to Net Neutrality repeal, and what this means for you

  1. Zach Mann Reply

    January 2, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Hey Steve,

    We’d love to bring Fiber into your Excelsior Springs location!

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