Not so Neutral on Net Neutrality by Student Madelynn Dickerson

You are not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the current rush of political news, policy changes, and calls to political activism that have resulted from the transition to a new administration these past months. Things are changing so quickly, and news is released at such high speeds. In the U.S. federal government, new cabinet members and appointees are only just getting their office furniture arranged and starting to communicate their positions and priorities for a huge range of important issues. One of those important issues, especially for those in library and information fields, is net neutrality. With the appointment of Ajit Pai as the new head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), many observers fear that net neutrality is at serious risk.

It was not much more than six months ago when American Libraries Magazine proclaimed, “ALA and Libraries Win the Day on Net Neutrality.” The summer 2016 blog post celebrated the then (and still quite) recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold the FCC’s ruling that “internet service providers (ISP’s) cannot engage in ‘paid prioritization’ and must keep the internet open to all users, content providers, and application developers” (Windhausen, 2016).

Net neutrality is a complicated issue with many nuances and diverse stakeholders, not just libraries. There is fear that without net neutrality laws in place, internet service providers, such as Verizon or Comcast (for example) would have the ability to prioritize data, in effect speeding up or slowing down data streams based on the content of the information being delivered. Ray Lin, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, has put together a clear and concise website that describes the issue and provides helpful examples that illustrate the potential impact of losing net neutrality and moving to a “tiered internet” model. Lin explains that without net neutrality it would be possible for a company like Verizon to provide a higher speed network for its own websites and content, and potentially “degrade” the network connection for competitors or any other content provider (such as personal websites, educational websites, etc), thereby creating tiers of service (Lin).

There are obviously opponents to net neutrality. In 2014, economist and former Sprint lobbyist Jeff Eisenach wrote an article called “There’s nothing neutral about net neutrality,” in which he expressed his concerns that net neutrality is “crony capitalism” and “an effort by one group of private interests to enrich itself at the expense of another group by using the power of the state” to legislate the internet. He goes on to explain that content providers such as Netflix are in fact reliant on data speed prioritization in order to deliver their streaming media content effectively (Eisenach, 2014). This past fall, Eisenach was named by President Trump to help oversee the FCC along with Mark Jamison, another net neutrality opponent (Pressman, 2016). Ajit Pai, the new FCC Chairman and a former lawyer for Verizon, does not support the 2015 law that establishes broadband service as a utility and is working to pull back communications related regulations (Kang, 2017).

By contrast, the American Library Association (ALA) strongly advocates for the principles of net neutrality, which it defines as “the concept of online non-discrimination” and considers “a founding principle of the Internet” (Network Neutrality). This support is fundamentally tied to ALA’s mission and in a 2016 statement, the ALA explained its support:

“America’s libraries collect, create and disseminate essential information to the public over the Internet. We also ensure our users are able to access the Internet and create and distribute their own digital content and applications. Keeping an open Internet – often referred to as ‘network neutrality’ is essential to meeting our mission in serving our communities” (American Library Association, 2016).

Are you feeling the activism itch? Are you interested in learning more about net neutrality and about ways you can to support the ALA in its advocacy of the open internet? If so, the ALA maintains an informative advocacy website at that defines net neutrality, outlines its position, and provides links to more information. It’s a great place to start.

Editor’s Note: Another great organization if you love libraries and you’ve got that activism itch, is EveryLibrary. They love having volunteers to write letters, make phone calls, gather supporters and stand up for libraries during election season. Stand by your library and make your voice be heard! Allison Randall Gatt

Author Madelynn Dickerson is an MLIS student at San Jose State University and Information Resources Coordinator at the Claremont Colleges Library. Her research interests include collection curation, digital humanities, and the role of libraries in supporting creative scholarship.









American Library Association. (2016, Jun 14). “ALA applauds decision upholding net neutrality protections.” ALAnews. Retrieved from

Eisenach, J. (2014, Sep 23). “There’s nothing neutral about net neutrality.” American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved from

Kang, C. (2017, Feb 5). “Trump’s F.C.C. Pick Quickly Targets Net Neutrality Rules.” New York Times. Retrieved from

Lin, R.(n.d) “Network Neutrality.” Open Computing Facility. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved from

“Network Neutrality.” American Library Association. Retrieved from

Pressman, A. (2016, Nov 21). “Trump Picks Staunch Opponents of Net Neutrality to Oversee FCC.” Fortune. Retrieved from

Windhausen, J. (2016, June 20). “ALA and Libraries Win the Day on Net Neutrality.” American Libraries Magazine. Retrieved from

image courtesy of Stuart Miles