Today, we use the internet for almost everything: from social media for communication to Netflix for entertainment to watching cat videos on YouTube. Libraries continue to be destinations for those without internet connections at home, including students.
But there will be massive changes in the way we use the internet if net neutrality is repealed — a proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai of the Federal Communications Commission that the group approved a few months ago. Supporters say the move will encourage competition among internet providers. Net neutrality rules officially end April 23.
Without net neutrality, companies such as Comcast and Verizon will be able to slow certain websites and decide what types of content and websites can be accessed or blocked.
The American Library Association said it has “fought this fight many times over the past decade” for “the open and free internet we all need to ensure intellectual freedom and equitable access in the digital age.”
“The ALA will continue to work with other supporters of strong net neutrality protections to ensure policymakers know how important a free and open internet is to libraries and the communities we serve,” the association said in a statement.
If net neutrality ends, libraries will be deeply affected by it, since internet access is one of their biggest attractions. Many people go to the libraries to use the computers to do things such as homework or to fill out job applications. If they can not access a certain website, they will not be able to get their work done. This will have a negative impact on their grades and their ability to support themselves if they cannot fill out job applications.
High school freshman Marlene Mendez-Perez, 15, uses computers at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Donatucci Branch five or six times a month to do her homework, check her library account and watch videos. She explained that she uses the computers at the library, because she doesn’t have a computer at home.
Seventh grader John Flores, 12, also goes to the library to use the computers for homework when he has spare time.
Jorina Teneqexhiu, a high school junior, works as a “teen leader” in the Literacy Enrichment After-school Program and helps students with their homework at the Donatucci Branch. The fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade students usually use computers for assignments, such as essays and research papers, she said. They use the library’s computers, because they do not have “faster networks at home or they don’t have internet access at home,” she said.
“If net neutrality really does end… companies like Verizon and T-Mobile will take advantage of this opportunity to charge us for things… then it will be harder to pay these bills,” Teneqexhiu said. “It is frustrating that these corporations and agencies will always win in a battle of the common people.”
Net neutrality was put into effect in October 2015. It is what gives everyone in the United States the right to access websites without restriction. It obligates internet service providers, such as Comcast, to offer equal access to all websites, to refrain from treating any websites better than others by speeding some up or slowing others down, and to tell customers that they collect data from them.
If net neutrality is repealed, Jeanne Hamann, library branch manager and adult/teen librarian, said it will most likely not affect people who rely on the library’s computers more than anyone else. But library users, who often have a limited amount of time to spend at the library, will likely get impatient waiting for certain websites to load.
To keep net neutrality, 22 states and Washington, D.C. have announced they will sue the FCC. The states have until April 23 to prevent net neutrality from being repealed. Some states, such as Massachusetts, proposed a bill to “enforce the principles of net neutrality.”
What some people are doing to help increase the possibility of keeping net neutrality is calling their state senators and representatives, writing or calling their Congress members, contacting the FCC, and signing petitions.
Dina Smith, who works at the library taking care of the serving desk and organizing the shelves, said ending net neutrality is not fair.
“I think that everybody should have… the right to have the same access [to the internet] as everyone else does,” she said. “I think people are gonna have to speak up and say how they feel.”