Internet (Net) Neutrality as a Necessary Mechanism to Foster Innovation and Intellectual Freedom

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Submitted by British Columbia Library Association 2010–07–06 16:20:01 EDT
Theme(s): Building Digital Skills, Canada's Digital Content, Digital Infrastructure

Submission

The British Columbia Library Association welcomes this opportunity to present our concerns and comments as part of Canada's Digital Economy Consultation and to ask the government of Canada to legislate Network (Net) Neutrality as a requirement for all Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

Network Neutrality is the principle that all information that is sent over the Internet should be treated equally.

Who We Are

The British Columbia Library Association (BCLA) was established in 1911. It is a nonprofit, independent, voluntary association. Our more than 700 members include librarians, library personnel, library trustees, other interested individuals, and institutions. The purpose of BCLA is to provide professional development opportunities for its members, and to serve the mutual interests of libraries and library users through education and advocacy for public policies which further the contribution of libraries to a thriving democratic society.

BCLA's Position on Net Neutrality

BCLA's position on Net Neutrality reflects the interests of Canadian libraries, library staff, and library users. Libraries provide millions of Canadians with Internet access through library computers and wireless networks, act as a portal to information on the Internet from home or in the library, and connect people with information in countless ways that depend in one way or another on the Internet.

Net Neutrality rests on the principle that information sent via the Internet, regardless of source or format, should be treated equally. This is a central principle of the creation and evolution of the Internet. From this principle it follows that:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs) do not have the right to manipulate the flow of web content to consumers.
  • All formats should be treated equally by ISPs (i.e. no content is blocked based on the technology used to deliver it).
  • Users are free to go where they want on the Internet, accessing the information they choose.

With this definition in mind, BCLA maintains that regulatory enforcement needs to be in place in order to preserve the democratic principles of the Internet. In addition, clear, immediate plans need to be made for enforcing these regulations, with the responsibility for taking necessary action lying with ISPs and not Internet users.

A non–neutral Internet threatens the mission of libraries to make available the widest diversity of views and information. It curtails the people of Canada's freedom to read.

An open Internet shares many of the same values as librarians such as intellectual freedom (freedom to access information and freedom to communicate, without censorship), equality of access, and accommodating a diversity of views and expression in an atmosphere of open competition of ideas free from undue influence.

Libraries' Contribution to the Digital Economy

By providing a diversity of information sources and by helping to provide equal access for all to these sources, Canadian libraries promote openness and equip Canadians with the tools for innovation. There are countless ways in which libraries help Canadians contribute to the digital economy. To name a few:

  • Libraries provide Internet access, software, and information resources to improve career and job searches. Career exploration seminars, for instance, connect library users with resources that allow them to evaluate different career paths using the latest evidence and trends. This improves the digital economy by encouraging training and skill development in necessary areas. In addition, libraries assist people with basic literacy and numeracy skills and aid newcomers in learning English and/or French.
  • Libraries provide access to information for entrepreneurs working on business plans and new products and services. For example, the University of British Columbia Library is set to launch its Small Business Accelerator Program, which will enable market research by entrepreneurs and the small business community throughout British Columbia.
  • Libraries facilitate research through Internet access, online catalogues and databases, online subject guides, and virtual reference service by email and instant messaging. Much academic research bolstered by libraries offers immediate application in the digital economy, while other forms of research represent an investment in the future when new applications of pure research will be discovered.
  • Libraries give a voice to local, regional, and national Canadian culture. The variety of Canadian writing, film, art, and music offered by libraries is unparalleled. Furthermore, libraries make readily accessible information that can be used in creating Canadian culture like documentaries, feature films, literature, and art. Increasingly this culture is being consumed and/or promoted digitally.

Impact of a Non–Neutral Internet on Libraries' Contribution to the Digital Economy

A non–neutral Internet has the power to undermine the contributions of libraries to Canada's digital economy. Allowing manipulation of Internet traffic could lead to unfair differences in performance between libraries and commercial sites. Librarians offer professional, objective research help — whether offered in–person or online in many different types of libraries (school, public, government, academic) in all provinces and territories.

The effectiveness and quality of these services would be potentially diminished by a non–neutral Internet as institutions in some economically disadvantaged areas (e.g., remote and more rural areas) might not be able to access the same range of resources for their patrons. Libraries are increasingly providing their services online. Users depend on the Internet to access these resources such as library catalogues, databases, online courses and direct interaction with librarians. Non–neutral oversight of Internet infrastructure could even negatively affect access to print resources discoverable through the catalogue.

One of the fundamental contributions of libraries is to protect the principle of intellectual freedom for all Canadians. Librarians assist researchers in making informed choices of resources based on information literacy skills, individual expertise and interests. Interference with the flow of information online undermines efforts by libraries and librarians to protect intellectual freedom and teach information literacy. Ultimately, this affects the intellectual vitality and creativity for individuals to develop their ideas in establishing businesses and other initiatives which would benefit Canadians.

Conclusions

BCLA requests legislation be created to mandate true Net Neutrality as outlined earlier in this submission. The federal government, via the Telecommunications Act, incorporates into Canadian telecommunications policy the value of "common carriage" which requires the separation between the network infrastructure and the content that moves over the network, so that all content is treated equally. While the CRTC decision on Net Neutrality in October 2009 has admirable qualities it does not adequately address this already legislated separation between infrastructure and content.

Aspects of the CRTC decision on Net Neutrality in October 2009 represent a step in the right direction. Transparency rules, however, speak to the problem of ISPs reducing access speeds to websites and applications (such as bit torrent) leading to the perception that the fault lies in the websites and web applications themselves. This false perception undermines citizens' freedom to choose. Throttling and traffic shaping conflate technical decisions about managing bandwidth with decisions about what information and technology people can access. BCLA believes that the decision of what to read should be separate from the decision of how it is delivered. The decision of what to read and where to go on the Internet should be based in principles of freedom to read and individual practices of information literacy. This is a decision that belongs in the hands of the creators and consumers of online content.

Citing our concerns pertaining to intellectual freedom, the ability to innovate (in business, education, technology, and culture), the spirit in which the Internet was created and built up into the central resource it is today, and the value of publicly — funded libraries in Canada's digital economy, we ask that the Government of Canada legislate Net Neutrality as a requirement for all Internet Service Providers.

Notice

The public consultation period ended on July 13, 2010, at which time this website was closed to additional comments and submissions.

Between May 10 and July 13, more than 2010 Canadian individuals and organizations registered to share their ideas and submissions. You can read their contributions—and the comments from other users—in the Submissions Area and the Idea Forum.

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