MLA News

Official News from the Music Library Association

Statement on Net Neutrality


December 14, 2017; updated December 18, 2017

As librarians, we value equal access to information, freedom of expression, intellectual freedom, and oppose efforts of censorship. The decision made on December 14, 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission to repeal net neutrality rules will make it much harder to do our jobs and meet the core values of our profession. Net neutrality rules were officially put in place in 2015 during the Obama administration, but in reality these were the de facto rules since the birth of the internet in 1989. As Tim Berners-Lee wrote in a tweet on December 12, 2017, “#NetNeutrality allowed me to invent the web. If protections are scrapped, innovators will have to ask ISPs for permission to get their ideas out – a disaster for creativity. A disaster for the internet. Tell your Reps to stop the vote.”[1]

Repealing net neutrality means that “ISPs will have the power to decide which websites you can access and at what speed each will load. In other words, they’ll be able to decide which companies succeed online, which voices are heard — and which are silenced.”[2] All data and services will no longer be treated equally. If internet service providers hold the power to determine what content is shared or the speed at which it loads, it can impact our communities negatively. If ISPs hold the power to decide what should be accessible and what should not, our democratic values and freedoms will be drastically impeded or even censored.

How might this decision impact academic and public libraries? The presidents of the New York, Brooklyn, and Queens public libraries caution that “without the current protections, the already yawning digital divide will be widened.”[3] Communities with already limited access to broadband internet may experience a greater divide in equal access to information and resources currently provided by libraries across the United States. How does this decision impact music libraries? Music librarians take on unique challenges in helping our users evaluate and access information. Whether a musician-scholar is researching Eric Whitacre, Lin-Manuel Miranda, or Beyoncé, it’s not uncommon to need critical commentary about their work; access to an official, legally available recordings; and sheet music to be used for performance. Without net neutrality, powerful corporations can influence where you access recordings and even suppress critical commentary.

Music communities also rely heavily on open access to share scholarship and sound recordings. Critical streaming resources like the Library of Congress Jukebox or the Free Music Archive could find themselves falling into obscurity in the Internet slow lane. Critical resources like the International Music Score Library Project could be slowed to provide advantages to corporations selling the content of our public domain music collections. Music scholars could face even steeper challenges to sharing their work in disciplinary and institutional repositories because those sites cannot afford the tolls to remain easily accessible online.

This repeal may drastically curtail the way in which academic libraries and publishers provide access to both subscription and open access content. If certain vendors,[4] to whom we already pay exorbitant subscription fees, decide to align with ISPs, the costs of paid prioritization may be passed on to libraries, which may result in some libraries not being able to continue their database subscriptions. Content and resources created by libraries that are resource-intensive (such as data, media, digital collections) may be difficult to access if they are put in a slow lane. Students and communities who already have limited access to fast broadband connectivity will be placed at a further disadvantage. This will essentially result in a restriction of information, which is equal to censorship.

Without net neutrality the internet will no longer be equally accessible to all. The FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality is an enormous step backwards; it will hinder creativity and innovation, as well as equal access and freedom to information for all.

Contact your members of Congress and ask that they step in and act against the decision to repeal net neutrality.

A few places to start:

ACLU Petition

Battle for the Internet

Readings/Resources about net neutrality

[1] Tim Berners-Lee, Tweet on December 12, 2017.

[2] Tim Berners-Lee, “Act now to save the internet as we know it,” Medium.

[3] New York Public Libraries, “New York Public Libraries: the proposal to kill net neutrality is ‘appalling.The Verge.

[4] E.g., Elsevier; See

* Prepared by MLA Board Member Anna Kijas with assistance from other members of the Board and MLA Open Access Editor Kathleen DeLaurenti.