Lecturer elaborates on Obama’s net neutrality statement
Last week, President Barack Obama made the Internet really happy.
In an online statement and accompanying YouTube video published Nov. 10, the president called net neutrality a basic principle of the Internet that as a people we cannot take for granted.
The president views the idea of an open Internet as one of the most significant democratizing influences the world has ever known.
“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” Obama wrote.
Indeed, creating empires from humble beginnings is a beloved (and recurrent) theme in technology success stories. Prime examples include Apple being founded in a garage, Facebook in a dorm room and Snapchat by fraternity brothers.
Obama essentially says that the power to upset the status quo, provided by the Internet, was the inspiration to this statement.
How does this affect Rutgers?
The Internet is arguably one of the most important tools students use on a daily basis. It’s no secret that much of Rutgers’ academic infrastructure is based online, considering how students register for classes on WebReg, submit assignments on Sakai and use e-mail to correspond with professors.
Nancy Kranich, a researcher, librarian and part-time lecturer at the Department of Library and Information Science, thinks the Internet is the perfect tool for educators. Internet access provides unparalleled open and equal access to information for everyone with a connection.
“Metadata” attached to any type information — including who, what, when, where or why it was created — doesn’t matter to an open Internet. If something is available for one person, it’s available for everyone.
After her experience working in libraries and organizations like the American Library Association, Kranich sees parallels between libraries and the Internet. In fact, Kranich thinks that the philosophy behind it — and net neutrality — is just like that of a library.
“When you go to the library, you don’t borrow a book based on price. Some of those books, particularly textbooks, are incredibly expensive,” Kranich said. “When you come to the library, you aren’t discriminated against because some are books expensive and some are cheap. All information is equal.”
When you pay your Internet Service Provider a flat rate per month, advocates of the open Internet like Kranich say that it should be like getting a library card. That fee should provide a consistent downstream and upstream bandwidth depending on how much you pay.
An important aspect of net neutrality is that paying for higher bandwidth shouldn’t provide early access, different books or open doors to members-only libraries — it should only let you carry books out of the library faster.
Kranich said content providers can pay a premium to receive preferential treatment from ISPs. Without net neutrality, these “fast lanes” might allow certain individuals to have priority access to content, potentially ruining the Internet’s level playing field.
“From a librarian’s perspective, we want to distinguish the good stuff from the not good stuff,” Kranich said. “What we care about is the public’s interest, not what’s paid for or preferential.”
Kranich said librarians want to help students find scholarly articles and “connect” to the library, obtaining content at the same speed as services such as Netflix or YouTube.
This also applies to everything else on the Internet. The New York Times, one of the world’s most-established newspapers, has access to the same Internet pipelines as The Daily Targum or even a student’s blog. Everything and everyone gets the same treatment on the open Internet.
What does Obama’s statement mean for the future of the Internet?
President Obama declaring his support is a big step toward securing the future of an open Internet with net neutrality.
“We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama wrote. “I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”
In his statement, Obama recognizes the FCC as an independent agency, but still strongly encourages them to create a new set of rules to protect net neutrality and prevent cable companies from acting as gatekeepers.
If cable companies are allowed to become gatekeepers, taking books out of the Internet library could be a totally different process, making it easier for certain books to be taken out, placing others at a disadvantage.
According to a report published in The New York Times about Obama’s statement, the president’s decision was widely interpreted as supporting FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler.
Wheeler is reportedly close to settling on a plan to protect net neutrality and the open Internet. The article suggests Obama’s statement could push him to enact aggressive regulation.
Internet content companies and consumer advocacy groups both hailed Obama’s suggestions as beneficial.
Obama’s first recommendation is no blocking of access to legal content. Second, there should be no intentional slowing down certain content, nor speeding up of others. Third is increased transparency, so users know more about their cable companies. Fourth is no paid prioritization or fast lane for which you can pay.
The Internet largely viewed his statement as positive, and news quickly spread throughout online communities like Reddit and Twitter.
These communities have continually played a vital role in getting someone as important as the president of the United States to come out in support of the Internet. One of their biggest talking points was viewing the Internet as a public utility, like electricity or even a public library.
It all comes down to how we classify the Internet. Is the Internet a necessity like electricity, or a luxury like cable TV?
“Everyone having a level playing field for information access helps economically, socially, educationally, politically,” Kranich said.
If the open Internet is going to stick around, providing open and non-discriminatory access and content services are principles that we have to hold closely, Kranich said.
“Admittedly, we don’t know how to do it!” she said.
That’s why Obama’s statement is a big deal — if nothing else, at the end of the day his rules will hopefully spark further conversation about net neutrality.
Tyler Gold is a senior in the School of Communication and Information. Follow @tylergold on Twitter for tech updates.