Anna Sheffer
December 14, 2017 8:29 am

Today, December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on the repeal of net neutrality — a law that keeps internet speeds equal across web pages. And while many have discussed the impact a net neutrality repeal would have on consumers and internet start-ups, it would also be a disaster for public libraries.

Though libraries are associated with books, they are also a crucial means of accessing the internet in the information age. In an interview with The Verge, New York Public Libraries president Anthony Marx and director of policy information Greg Cram said that many people depend on libraries to complete homework assignments, do research, and apply to or look for jobs. Cram told The Verge that in 2017, NYPL provided 3.1 million computer sessions to users on 4,700 different machines.

Under net neutrality, every site on the internet has access to the same speed. But if net neutrality is repealed, internet providers could block content or grant priority to sites that pay them more, making those sites faster. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began the process of repealing net neutrality on November 21st, and today, the FCC will vote on the repeal. The FCC is expected to pass the net neutrality repeal.

Those who depend on libraries for internet are generally low-income and can’t afford their own internet connections. And without net neutrality, libraries could be relegated to lower-speed internet if they can’t afford to pay more, or they might not be able to gain access to certain websites. All this would harm the people who need access to the free and open internet the most.

And that’s not the only way the net neutrality repeal would negatively affect libraries. According to the American Library Association, many libraries also utilize distance learning programs that work by streaming audio and video. If speeds were slowed after the loss of net neutrality, these programs wouldn’t be able to function properly.

Important services for people with disabilities would also be affected by net neutrality’s demise. Marx told The Verge that the NYPL runs a library for the blind that would not be possible without access to the internet.

Libraries are still a vital resource for millions, and repealing net neutrality could prevent those who need it most from accessing the internet. We need a free and open internet for everyone. We hope that the FCC considers that when they vote today.

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