Net neutrality is sinking fast: Now what do we do?

Network neutrality symbol

Well, as you know – we had a pretty devastating setback on net neutrality. The FCC repealed it a couple of weeks ago. We have been talking about this here on the blog, and on our social media, because this issue is very important for libraries.

(You can scroll down to the end for action steps; or take the scenic route through the whole story!)

What Is Happening????

Net neutrality means that you can go online, on any device using any internet vendor (Verizon, Spectrum, etc) and you get just the same speed as anyone else. You can go to whatever site you want, use whatever browser you want, and do whatever you want when you are there. Your mom might restrict use; but Verizon or Spectrum can’t.

Now that’s gone.

Here is a small example of what that could mean.  I have a Verizon phone, and like many people I’m on it all the time doing tons of things.  Verizon owns Yahoo, so it would now be perfectly allowable for Verizon to only allow me to go to Yahoo. If I want to use Google (because I have Gmail), Verizon could just say “Nope! No Google for you!”

More likely, they would create a special “Google Package” or something: for the low, low price of Whatever They Want dollars a month, I can access my Gmail and search for fun library stuff on Google. For a slightly higher price, I could probably also watch YouTube videos – as they are owned by Google and obviously would not be just accessible through Verizon’s standard service.

Maybe I want to access Google Classroom tools, because I need them for work. Clearly, just getting there is out of the question through a Verizon connection without some extra payments. Hopefully schools will work out a payment plan to allow students and teachers to use it at work, but you will have to figure out your own payment plan if you want to use it at home.

(Keep going past the break. The story gets so much worse for a while – but then your positive action steps wrap it up!)



(This is a chart created by a Reddit user. NOT REAL – but this is what pricing looks like in other countries without Net Neutrality. Keep in mind: these charges are on top of your current bills – not instead of.)







Let’s move beyond Google. Maybe the President of Verizon is a well-known hater of leprechauns. (Note: I have absolutely no idea what his stance is on leprechauns; this is only an example.) But let’s say that I am a huge leprechaun fan. I have artwork all over my office of leprechauns, I wear green to work every day, and have a suspiciously large pot in my back yard that has a mysterious golden shine inside. Verizon President McAdam could issue a statement that there are no leprechauns allowed on Verizon devices. So now, I can’t access my favorite leprechaun chat rooms to talk about sightings – the page is blocked, I can’t post my leprechaun art to the community art board – that page is blocked, and when I type “leprechauns in my neighborhood” into my Yahoo browser – it comes up with nothing because that word is blocked from being searched. I also can’t download my Leprechauns and Me app at all, because Verizon is blocking that too.

And these are just the tools we have today. If next year the tech existed for me to use my VR googles to dance with leprechauns across my living room – Verizon could block that or throttle it so that instead of happily waltzing, I’m at best doing a stuttering two-step. If in five years we have full-wall sized TV screens (parlor walls, from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451), Verizon could block my access to the Leprechaun Channel, or throttle it so that I’m squinting at leprechauns through the signal breaking up.

Whatever technology you can imagine in the future – Verizon can imagine throttling your speed, denying you access, or requiring a fee for you to access it through their system.

None of this has happened as of today. But, know that it absolutely could happen tomorrow.  (Well, it will take a couple of months for these rule changes to become official; so not tomorrow – but yes, changes will come.)

If you want to pause here for a moment to reflect in growing horror, and maybe cry for a while – that is entirely appropriate, and probably an the most realistic assessment of the situation. I will be happy to join you in those tears. This is literally a case of knowing that if people are not freaking out – they are not paying attention.


How did we get here? Well, there were a lot of factors. One of them: Verizon has been heavily involved in getting these rules changed. Yes: involved to the extent that the Chair of the FCC is Verizon’s former Associate General Counsel. He gave a big speech to Verizon the weekend before making these rule changes. What did they discuss? We’ll never know for sure. Take another moment to weep.

We do not know what their plans are, but certainly providing a Fast Lane Access plan has already been mentioned. That would provide people who pay the extra fee with fast service; presumably leaving the rest of us with the slow service. Remember dial-up speeds? We may be getting used to that again.

Does your library have room in the budget to pay for a fast lane? Or have you just been relying on the internet as a necessary part of your work-life, and that of everyone using your internet? Probably, it’s that second one.

And, of course Verizon has just been the public face of this. Every single internet provider is making plans for their strategies now that net neutrality is no more. They can do what they want, and charge what they want. And probably, we will all buckle under and go along with it because society has changed, and we depend on the internet every day. (Heck, I bank online; yeah, I’m going to pay Verizon to access my money if that becomes necessary. I’m going to be furious about it – but Verizon will have my money and won’t care.)

So: What do we do now???

Well. As you imagine, this has NOT gone over well with most people. Everyone who does not own an internet provider realizes that giving just a few corporations the ability to prevent our free and fast access to the internet is a really bad idea.

(If you do own one, then – and I’m just guessing here – you are nearly deaf from the “cha-ching, cha-ching!!” sounds you keep hearing, as you roll around in your enormous pile of gold coins while you cackle evilly. So, you’re busy.)

Several states are already lining up to file suit against the federal government to block this change. So far,  I’ve read about Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Massachusetts – and just this week Minnesota! – all announcing plans to file suit. Almost certainly, other states will join in on this. So, that’s underway

The FCC  Chair said he does not believe states can pass their own legislation to prevent internet throttling or blocking of sites. But of course, they can do anything and then let the cases wind through the court system to get an official opinion. Look for that to get started soon.

The FCC gets their authority to make these rules from Congress. They are an administrative agency with broad powers to make rules about interstate communications – TV, radio, cable, satellite, etc.  So Congress can pull back on this. “Hey there – you guys made a bad decision; we are going to vote to adjust that.”

This is where you come in!

Verizon (and Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, and all their buddies) will be sending – have already sent – their high-paid lobbyists to chat with members of Congress. They will offer to “help” to rewrite any potential legislation – this is their job. (A lot of laws are written by lobbyists, then handed to legislators to enact. You sweet, naive soul – you thought “I’m Just A Bill” was how laws were made? Nope. Click on that link though, just to enjoy the simple pleasures of Schoolhouse Rock while you can!)

Do you have a high-priced lobbyist? Neither do I.

You have us. We have you. That’s….pretty much it.

What we need is to have a big groundswell of “us” who all want a free and fast access to the Internet. We need people who support Net Neutrality. And we need you right now.

Contact your legislators to tell them that you are NOT HAPPY about this!! Your library needs a free and fast internet! You serve your community, and providing internet access is a fundamental part of that!!!

Here is the language from the ALA: “The FCC voted to gut the net neutrality protections that limit the power of Internet Service Providers to slow websites, block mobile apps, or in any way control the information we access. Contact your members of Congress today and ask them to use a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the FCC’s disturbing rulemaking.”

What, exactly, can you do??

First: Know that you are needed!!!

If you do nothing because you get scared, or don’t like to take action – you are helping Verizon to block my access to leprechauns! WE NEED YOU!! Speak up for your patrons, for your library, for your community, and for yourself!!!

Second: track down your legislators.

This is very easy. Ideally, you already know how to reach them, because you have been telling them how valuable your library is.  As a reminder though:

  • Federal
    • Senate: (In Minnesota we are having a change-over in Sen. Franken’s office; so feel free to address correspondence to Sen. Tina Smith – even though she is not official yet, or to Sen. Franken’s Office)
    • House of Representatives

Or, just type your address into this map, and get a list of all federal and state legislators representing you.

Third: Contact these people!

It’s easy to be cynical about “those” politicians (so, so very easy…) – but all politicians are people, and they are elected by people to serve our needs.

  • If the only people they hear from are rich jerks who want to take away your internet access – guess what they are going to do?
  • If the only people they hear from are rich donors who want favors – what are they going to do?
  • If they hear from just a couple of librarians – how easy will it be for them to think “Oh, libraries – that’s so quaint and adorable” and never give us another thought as they destroy our internet? SUPER easy!!

Send emails.

Call and leave messages.

  • If you panic on the phone – and I’m one of those people! – know that no one is going to engage you in discussion. You will probably get a voice mail, though you might get a staffer. In either case, leave a short, focused, polite message and move on.

Send postcards.

Do One Thing Today!

  • We aren’t winning this issue all at once, so pace yourself. Do one thing today to get started.
  • Then do this again tomorrow. And the next day. Wearing people down by building up the message – it’s the only way that works.

Then go tell other people about this issue!! ‘

  • Forward on this novel-length article, or find something shorter! Tell people what we all have to lose! Spread the word!

You ask: “What do I say?”

Tell them you want them to support Net Neutrality. Tell them you serve a community full of people who need a free and fast internet connection. Tell them you want them to IMMEDIATELY use a Resolution of Disapproval to overturn the FCC ruling. Feel free to add in anything else you want to say.

“Is this going to work? Will the internet be saved?”

I have no idea.

I’ll tell you – I’m feeling pretty depressed about my politicians lately. I  get nothing in response to my emails from Rep. Emmer but form letters saying his office only responds to people in his district. (That’s fair – these people are really busy; but I do live in his district, and gave my address to show that.)

But definitely: doing nothing, not speaking up, waiting for someone to do something to help you?

That is for sure not going to work.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  from Margaret Mead. (Did she really say this? Who cares? It’s true, regardless of the source.)

Both of our Senators have been actively supporting net neutrality, and likely our new Senator will also be supportive.

It’s a little trickier on the House side. The day before the FCC acted, 100 Representative sent the Chair a letter supporting getting rid of Net Neutrality. Rep. Tom Emmer was one; Rep. Jason Lewis was another.  So these two will be a tougher sell – but STILL TRY!!

  • Remember what all politicians fundamentally want: To get reelected. If we can convince them them that enough of their voters care a lot about Net Neutrality, it’s harder for them to vote against it.

Should you contact state officials? Yes! Access to the internet touches all aspects of our lives; and state officials need to be aware of how important this is to libraries. The pressure governors and attorneys general can put on federal officials, when working as a group, can be substantial – but they need to know we care to put forward that effort.

Do you want library-themed postcards? Swing by our office to get some!!! Fill it out while you are there, and we will even mail it for you!!

Whew!! That was a lot of reading; hopefully some of it was helpful.

I love the internet. We all need the internet.

I’m asking you to do at least one thing today to help save it.

Thank you so much for that!