If You Google Net Neutrality, What Do You Get?

August 11, 2010

There’s been no dearth of opining in the past few days about the implications of Google and Verizon banding together to “find ways to protect the future openness of the internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband,” which is how a joint policy statement between the two firms is being framed by Alan Davidson, Google director of public policy and Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy, and communications.

The bottom line for librarians is, of course, why they should care at a time when too many practitioners are in survival mode. They’re too busy struggling to keep their libraries open—and themselves employed within them—to worry whether backroom talks between two commercial giants could hamper the free flow of information into those libraries and to the public at large.

Hands down, the day-to-day realities on the front lines trump the concerns of policy wonks. That’s what was so refreshing about my conversation yesterday with Corey Williams, who is associate director of ALA’s Office of Government Relations. Like her wonky colleagues at ALA’s Washington Office, she has no trouble grounding esoteric debates in real-world scenarios.

“Unfortunately, a perfect—or near-perfect, or even not-so-near—solution to ensuring a fast, reliable, and open internet has not emerged,” Corey said, explaining that what’s at stake is a librarian’s certainty that she has helped a patron access, for instance, all the relevant medical information he needs. If new regulations permitted the equivalent of an invisible carpool lane to be built online that was reserved for premium services, how would you know for certain?

“ALA strongly supports net neutrality principles on behalf of the libraries and the patrons we serve—the public,” Corey affirmed, even as industry players seem to be jockeying to define what nondiscrimination means when it comes to ISPs routing all internet traffic equally. She is convinced that the Federal Communications Commission, which is seeking to codify its authority as internet regulator, is also committed to that principle.

Time will tell how that plays out in the real world.