AALL Celebrates Net Neutrality Decision

June 15, 2016

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order, which reclassified broadband under Title II as a common carrier service to protect net neutrality. The decision upheld reclassification and rejected the First Amendment challenge by several Internet service providers (ISPs) and their trade associations.

AALL strongly supports the Open Internet Order, which regulates broadband Internet service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The Order lays out several key prohibitions on ISPs that protect law libraries, including banning ISPs from blocking or slowing down (“throttling”) web traffic or speeding it up in exchange for money (“paid prioritization”), and applies to both fixed and wireless carriers.

AALL celebrates the decision, which helps to ensure that law libraries can continue to provide equal access to the Internet and nondiscriminatory access to online legal content.

Amid Appropriations Challenge, Net Neutrality Rules To Go Into Effect Friday

June 11, 2015

Update 4:30pm: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has denied the stay of FCC Title II reclassification.

By Elizabeth Holland

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) new Open Internet Order will go into effect on Friday, June 12. That is, unless Congressional Republicans have something to do with it. Today, the Financial Services Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee approved by voice vote an appropriations bill that would cut the FCC’s funding and block net neutrality rules from being implemented. If passed, the bill would act as a sort of legislative stay (likely, ex post facto), until the U.S. Court of Appeals weighs in.

From the House Appropriations Committee press release:

The bill contains $315 million for the FCC – a cut of $25 million below the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $73 million below the request. The legislation prohibits the FCC from implementing net neutrality until certain court cases are resolved, requires newly proposed regulations to be made publicly available for 21 days before the Commission votes on them, and prohibits the FCC from regulating rates for either wireline or wireless Internet service.

Of course, the likelihood of such a partisan policy rider passing is incredibly slim. Subcommittee member Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) called the net neutrality caveat “excessive” and one that would make the bill unpassable from the Democratic view. Most of the additional funds requested, he pointed out, would enable to FCC to move to a new headquarters that Chairman Tom Wheeler has said will save money in the long-run. And because net neutrality rules don’t have their own line item, reducing funding for the FCC as a whole would jeopardize the agency’s ability to inform important functions like ensuring the 9-1-1 system, rural call completion, and preventing harmful interference to wireless communications.

Several Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed, have requested a judicial stay to delay the June 12 implementation of Title II regulations. The FCC has already rejected such a request. Both parties agree, however, that the court should expedite hearing of the underlying case if a stay is not granted.

AALL strongly opposes this House Appropriations subcommittee bill and urges full funding for the FCC. We believe a legislative solution to enshrine the FCC’s net neutrality rules would be less likely to be tested in court, would settle jurisdictional questions between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, and would bring finality to net neutrality rules. We urge Congress to take action to codify this important principle.

To learn more about law librarians’ stake in the net neutrality debate, join Government Relations Committee Chair Leslie Street and others in Philadelphia at Hot Topic: Net Neutrality and Law Librarians: It’s a Good Thing on Tuesday, July 21 at 11:00 am.

Congressional Republicans Shift Attention to Net Neutrality Rules

January 21, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Congress will hold back-to-back hearings on net neutrality today in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology and Communications and the Senate Commerce Committee, giving lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in weeks before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to unveil its new rules and kicking off what will likely be a contentious partisan debate.

Aiming to head off the impending FCC vote, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce Committees respectively, circulated draft legislation last week to restrict the agency’s authority on net neutrality. The proposed bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling content, or from prioritizing web traffic from those sites that pay for faster access to the consumer, and would apply to both wired and wireless providers. However, the bill would also prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory move designed to give the agency more solid legal footing on which to issue strong net neutrality rules as President Obama (and AALL) have urged. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted that he will propose Title II reclassification to the commission for it Feb. 26 vote on new rules.

While the proposal to limit the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality has garnered criticism from net neutrality advocates and congressional Democrats, the legislation suggests a shift for congressional Republicans, who had previously expressed doubts about the need for net neutrality rules at all. Meanwhile, President Obama renewed his call for strong net neutrality rules during his State of the Union address last night. In this remarks, the President pledged “protect a free and open Internet” but did not directly address his support for open Internet rules under Title II reclassification.

While AALL welcomes Congressional action to protect net neutrality, we are concerned the current legislative proposal fails to adequately protect the principles of the open Internet in a number of ways. Our friends at Public Knowledge have an excellent write up of the bill’s shortcomings. The proposed legislation also raises concerns for law libraries because of a copyright provision included in section 13(c)(2), which states “nothing in this section…prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.” We maintain our belief that the FCC should establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and oppose legislative efforts to prevent such an authority.

AALL Files Comments in Net Neutrality Proceeding

July 22, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL), the Medical Library Association (MLA), and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) filed comments together in the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s Open Internet proceeding. The comments, available here, were authored by AALL’s Government Relations Office and Government Relations Committee, with input and examples from AAHSL, MLA, and SLA.

AALL, AAHSL, MLA, and SLA urge the FCC to create open Internet rules that preserve and defend the key principle of network neutrality. Our comments focus on the important role libraries play in providing unbiased access to information over the Internet and, increasingly, as the creators and hosts of information. Libraries, for example, may provide educational opportunities online in the form of Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) or host information produced by other sources, like state governments and the courts.

Our organizations oppose any open Internet rules that would allow for a tiered system of access, as is presently proposed in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking’s “commercially unreasonable” standard, which would permit the sanctioning of paid prioritization under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Paid prioritization inherently favors content providers that can pay fees for favorable treatment, while non-profit content providers like libraries, educational institutions, government agencies, and non-profit organizations are relegated to second-class delivery. We urge the FCC to establish a firm foundation for its open Internet rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, while forbearing from applying any possibly unnecessary, costly, and burdensome regulations. Such reclassification would subject Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to common carrier rules that better ensure equal, nondiscriminatory access to content on the Internet and require ISPs to operate more transparently.

Net neutrality is critical to libraries, their missions, and their patrons.  AALL, AAHSL, MLA, and SLA urge the FCC to create open Internet rules that preserve and defend this key principle. Over 1 million comments on net neutrality were filed with the FCC, which extended the deadline by several days after a crush of traffic to their electronic comment filing system. Though the initial comment period is now closed, a second period for reply comments will run until September 10.

FCC Opens Proposed Net Neutrality Rulemaking

May 16, 2014

By Emily Feltren

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to adopt Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on net neutrality, launching a 120 day public comment period on how to protect and promote an open Internet. The 3-2 vote was cast along on party lines, with the chairman and two Democrats voting in support and the two Republican commissioners voting against.

Reports of Chairman Wheeler’s proposal raised fears in recent weeks that the principle of net neutrality, which ensures that all Internet traffic is treated equally, could be compromised. After initial press accounts about the draft NPRM, AALL became concerned that the FCC’s proposal would allow Internet companies and websites to pay for premium access to faster data connections, creating a tiered system of broadband access that critics call “pay-to-play fast lanes” and effectively ending net neutrality. At Thursday’s commission vote, though, the Chairman’s insisted that the FCC will seriously consider public input on how “to preserve and protect the Open Internet.” The Commission also said it will “seriously consider the use of Title II of the Communications Act as the basis for legal authority,” reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service. AALL believes that this would allow the FCC to stand on firmer legal ground.

AALL strongly supports the principle of net neutrality and believes that equal access to information is a fundamental principle of the Internet. Without net neutrality, law libraries may be unable to afford the imposed fees for preferred access, and thus could not provide equal access to the online legal information their users need. We oppose any decision that would position Internet Service Providers as gatekeepers to online information.

AALL will participate in the rulemaking process. Please stay tuned for further analysis and opportunities for your participation.

Court Deals Blow to FCC Net Neutrality Rules

January 15, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) effort to require broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally and give consumers equal access to content, a principle known as net neutrality. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said in its ruling the FCC could not apply anti-blocking and nondiscrimination rules to broadband providers, as it did in its 2011 Open Internet Order. The ruling means that companies could block or slow down any website, application, or service, as well as create a tiered pricing structure for Internet access. The decision threatens law libraries’ ability to provide users with a consistent, uncensored, and reliable way of accessing online legal information.

While the decision is a real loss for Internet users in the United States, the ruling strongly suggests that Internet access services and neutrality rules are well within the FCC’s purview; the agency’s legal problems stem from the decision to classify broadband Internet as an “information service,” rather than “telecommunications service.” In his recent remarks in Silicon Valley, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressed strong support for Internet neutrality and reaffirmed his commitment to the open internet in a statement responding to yesterday’s ruling.  The FCC will “consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.” Should the FCC reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, net neutrality rules would stand on much firmer legal ground.

AALL strongly supports net neutrality, which protects the unique, open nature of the Internet, and promotes innovation, competition, and intellectual freedom. Without net neutrality, libraries may be unable to afford the imposed fees for preferred access, and thus could not provide equal access to the online legal information their users need. Following the D.C. Circuit’s decision, AALL will continue to work to advocate for net neutrality and will lobby policy-makers to take the necessary steps to restore the important principle of an open Internet.

Senate Rejects Net Neutrality Measure

November 10, 2011

In a victory for net neutrality, the Senate today voted against S.J. Res 6, the resolution that would have overturned the Federal Communications Commission’s recent net neutrality rules. Thank you to all of you who called your Senators to urge them to vote No on this problematic resolution!

Earlier in the week, the White House released a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) reiterating President Obama’s support for net neutrality and pledging that the President would veto S.J. Res 6 if it came to his desk. The SAP states:

Disapproval of the rule would threaten those values and cast uncertainty over those innovative new businesses that are a critical part of the Nation’s economic recovery. It would be ill-advised to threaten the very foundations of innovation in the Internet economy and the democratic spirit that has made the Internet a force for social progress around the world.

The Senate voted 52-46, along party lines. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) did not vote.

The FCC’s rules are scheduled to take effect on November 20, but several pending lawsuits may delay their implementation. We will keep you updated as developments occur.

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