Net Neutrality: an Open Letter to the FCC

By Bethany Nowviskie posted

This is a brief post meant to direct your attention to an almost equally brief letter—and to an issue of likely interest to CLIR’s Re:Thinking readers, from across the spectrum of communities CLIR serves. On Tuesday night, a loose coalition of chairs, directors, presidents, editors, and founders of 27 well-established digital humanities and digital media professional associations, journals, and publishing platforms joined in an open letter, sent to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. These scholars, librarians, and administrators banded together—as individuals—on an issue that has been simmering for more than a decade (and on which some of us have lobbied and done advocacy work for just as long).

Our not-so-new, shared problem is the endangerment of net neutrality, fresh policies for which will be revealed and voted on at a May 15th open meeting of the FCC. The letter came together quickly, in part through existing networks such as the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. As leaders of some (by no means all!) of the major digital humanities-related professional societies and publication platforms, we jointly urge the FCC to protect what we call the “fundamental character of the open, nondiscriminatory, creative, and competitive Internet,” by reclassifying broadband service as “common carrier” telecommunications in the United States. This would open the door to the FCC’s assertion of its own right and responsibility to enact strong network neutrality regulations. 

See the announcement of the letter at the website of the Association for Computers and the Humanities, where a brief set of background readings and possible action items are also posted. Among the readings, I would particularly like to single out The Atlantic’s round-up of the best and most nuanced popular press writing on net neutrality, “A Guide to (and History of) a Contested Idea,” and “Why #NetNeutrality Matters to Higher Ed,” by Adeline Koh and Siobhan Senier at the Chronicle of Higher Education, a short post which is particularly canny on the potentially detrimental impacts of Internet “fast” and “slow lanes” on the public humanities, including digital activism, citizen empowerment, and already-existing inequities in access to information.

The international group of association presidents, coalition directors, and editors-in-chief that assembled for this letter can and should grow. There has already been a strong statement of interest among them for working more closely in the future to advocate, either as individuals or at an organizational level, on political issues that matter to our shared digital humanities, digital libraries, open data, and digital arts communities. Letters like these are little drops in the bucket. We can fill it.

Bethany Nowviskie directs the department of Digital Research & Scholarship at the University of Virginia Library and serves as special advisor to the UVa Provost on digital humanities concerns. She is also a CLIR Distinguished Presidential Fellow.