March Washington E-Bulletin

March 2, 2015

The March issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is available now on AALLNET.

Vol. 2015, Issue 03
*AALL Lobby Day Special Edition*





AALL Applauds FCC Approval of Strong Net Neutrality Rules

February 26, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to adopt strict new rules for Internet providers, protecting net neutrality by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. Under the new rules, broadband Internet service will be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The rules lay out several key prohibitions on Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including banning ISPs from blocking or slowing down (“throttling”) web traffic or speeding it up in exchange for money (“paid prioritization”), and will apply to both fixed and wireless carriers. The Commission voted to adopt the rules along party lines 3-2, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

AALL commends the FCC on this historic vote, which echoes our July comments to the Commission. Together with the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association, AALL urged the FCC to pursue reclassification under Title II, while exercising forbearance for regulations in the Communications Act that are not pertinent to contemporary Internet service, are costly, or are burdensome. “Law libraries rely on net neutrality to fulfill their duty to provide nondiscriminatory access to online legal content. Reclassifying the Internet under Title II…will ensure that law libraries are able to provide equal access to the Internet and that everyone – whether a researcher, attorney, self-represented litigant, small business owner, or student – has a consistent and reliable way of accessing information online,” AALL President Holly M. Riccio said in a statement.

The new rules reflect more than a year of deliberation by the FCC and a surprising about-face by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, whose initial proposal was much friendlier to ISPs. Internet Service Providers are likely to challenge the new Open Internet Order in the courts, while Congressional Republicans are seeking a legislative solution to undermine the FCC’s authority. Still, today’s vote is a significant victory for open Internet advocates and a strong signal of the Commission’s intent to protect net neutrality to the best of its ability.

FCC Chairman Unveils Plan to Protect Net Neutrality

February 6, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

This week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a proposal to regulate broadband Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, protecting net neutrality by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. The Commission is expected to vote on the Chairman’s plan on February 26.

AALL applauds the decision of Chairman Wheeler to rely on Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the authority for which we advocated in our July comments to the FCC. Reclassification under Title II 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. In an op-ed on published Wednesday, Chairman Wheeler wrote, “Using [Title II], I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services….My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

While Open Internet advocates, content providers like Twitter and Netflix, and many Congressional Democrats lauded the Chairman’s decision, the proposed reclassification drew criticism from others. Senator John Thune, who recently floated legislation to restrict the FCC’s authority on net neutrality, said in a statement, “Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility is not about net neutrality – it is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.” Meanwhile, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon look poised to sue. With the late February vote fast approaching, legal challenges could make for a more drawn out process.

Net neutrality is critical to law libraries, their missions, and their patrons. AALL urges to the Commission to adopt the Chairman’s proposal.

January Washington E-Bulletin

January 7, 2015

The January issue of the Washington E-Bulletin is available now on AALLNET.

Vol. 2015, Issue 01





OGIS at Five, and in the Future

October 31, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

One of the principle tenets of conflict mediation is to acknowledge the past and look to the future. In that vein, today (of which AALL is a member) and the Newseum Institute hosted “OGIS at Five”, a celebration of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) five year anniversary of mediating disputes regarding Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests between requesters and federal agencies. In three panel session, FOIA experts from the administration and agencies, Congress, and requestor community shared their perspectives on the successes and shortcomings of OGIS and the parties it seeks to serve.

Since opening its doors five years ago, OGIS has worked to assist individuals with their FOIA requests, including offering non-binding mediation to resolve disputes about an agency’s decision. Panelist Bill Holzerland of the Food and Drug Administration’s Division of Information Disclosure at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, credits OGIS with what he perceives to be a culture shift among agency FOIA professionals, who receive dispute resolution training from OGIS. As dispute resolution is increasingly encouraged by OGIS and FOIA Public Liaisons, more view mediation as a viable alternative to litigation, saving time and resources. Additionally, OGIS’s support of FOIAonline portal has been critical in pushing the government towards a model that makes the process of navigating FOIA easier for the public.

Still, many in the requestor community feel OGIS could use more teeth, particularly in its mission to review agencies’ FOIA performance and compliance. Last year’s Government Accountability Office audit found that OGIS had “not performed the reviews of regulations and notices in a proactive, comprehensive manner, and has not conducted any reviews of agencies’ compliance with the law.” Helpfully, OGIS has recently begun posting its final response letters in FOIA mediation. But, mediation, of course, has not yet led to more public records, as OGIS lacks the power to compel disclosure.

Looking to the next five years, all parties agreed a stronger, better funded OGIS would serve requestors and agencies equally well. To this end, the FOIA Improvements Act of 2014 (S. 2520) is pending Senate consideration. If passed, the legislation would improve FOIA in significant ways, including codifying the presumption of openness by requiring agencies to release information responsive to a FOIA request and amending the overbroad (b)5 exemption. The bill would also strengthen OGIS by providing the ability to bypass the review of its recommendations to change FOIA practices by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before submitting them to Congress and the President. The bill also clarifies OGIS’ ability to issue advisory opinions at its discretion. With greater resources and more buy-in from agencies, OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet hopes OGIS could one day close its doors when FOIA dispute resolution is no longer needed.

Law Libraries and Access to Justice

September 25, 2014

By Emily Feltren

Last week I had the special opportunity to join AALL’s past president Steve Anderson for the Legal Services Corporation’s (LSC) 40th Anniversary Celebration in Washington, D.C. The event brought together stakeholders and supporters for several days of reflection on LSC’s successes and discussion of the challenges ahead. The event attracted policymakers from both sides of the aisle, current and former administration officials, state Supreme Court justices and judges, law school deans and faculty, business leaders, attorneys and others who participated in panels about how public and private sector leaders can help to improve access to justice.

The timing of the event couldn’t have been better as AALL’s Access to Justice (ATJ) Special Committee just published its new white paper entitled “Law Libraries and Access to Justice: A Report of the American Association of Law Libraries Special Committee on Access to Justice.” There was a high level of interest in the paper at the conference, as well as support for the need for partnerships with law libraries to support the ATJ movement. In particular, there was recognition that the ATJ leaders need to build bridges between communities and work together to address the needs of the disadvantaged.

Access to justice is a key element of AALL’s strategic directions. It is also part of AALL’s Public Policy Positions for the 113th Congress, which states: “Access to justice is essential for a well-functioning democracy. Law libraries provide access to legal resources and increase understanding of the legal system, helping to ensure equal justice for all.” AALL is committed to supporting the work of our members and the Legal Services Corporation to ensure “justice for all”.

Next Steps on Net Neutrality

September 23, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

The time has come for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to get down to business on new net neutrality rules. Last week, the agency announced that it had received over 3.7 million comments and reply comments on its now-closed notice of proposed rulemaking on Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. Chairman Tom Wheeler made the rounds at hearings on Capitol Hill and hosted 12 hours of discussions in the Open Internet Roundtables.

In our July comments to the FCC, AALL urged the agency to establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service; and in a blog post yesterday, Wireline Bureau Chief Julie Veach wrote that agency is seriously considering proposals that rely, at least partially, on Title II. Veach highlighted comments from AOL, Mozilla, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Professor Tim Wu that recommended using Title II in combination with other legal theories to protect the principle of net neutrality. Wheeler is, she wrote, looking at a “rainbow of policy and legal proposals” rather than being confined to “monochromatic” options.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have gotten on board for stricter regulations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for the commission to designate broadband Internet service as a utility, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is using his committee to explore ways to strengthen the proposed rules. Chairman Leahy also authored the bicameral Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act (H.R. 4880, S. 2476) that would require the FCC to ban paid prioritization deals. Oppositely, Senate Republican leaders have taken aim at the FCC for what they see as burdensome government regulation. The Federal Trade Commission also says it would lose its ability to take action against “deceptive and unfair” behavior by broadband providers if the FCC decides to pursue Title II reclassification.

Chairman Wheeler has said that he hopes the FCC will approve a proposal before the end of 2014. With any action unlikely before Election Day, the commission has a few more months to consider comments, meet with stakeholders, and test the waters on Title II before scheduling a final vote.


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