Tag Archives: Net Neutrality

Free Internet Access at Public Libraries

17 Mar

People on computers in library

Two things today have provoked my reflection on the importance of the service of free computer and internet access through public libraries. Today in my Information Services and Users class, a group of students presented the topic of serving special populations in libraries. Their presentation highlighted the specialized informational needs of aboriginal persons, prison inmates and the urban poor and how libraries can best serve these user groups. During the presentation, one girl brought to our attention the case of Kevin Barbieux, a homeless man who has been using his public library’s computer to blog at The Homeless Guy since 2007. I knew that the service of library internet access met the various needs of a diverse population, but the thought that this service provides Kevin Barbieux with a forum by which to voice his opinion on issues from public housing to best way to deal with pan handlers completely blows my mind. Public libraries are SO awesome. What better a way to address societal misconceptions and stereotypes than by facilitating a forum for people in the margins of society to communicate issues that matter to them?  Isn’t one of the noblest goals of public librarianship to provide equal opportunities to all? What a fantastic example of this goal in action in the heart of a Nashville library. Hearing about this case and then reading the Homeless Guy’s blog cause my passion and enthusiasm for public libraries to swell.

This enthusiasm that stayed with me all day until I read the article “Industry Minister announces reprieve of library Internet access program” from the Globe and Mail on the recent confusion in Canadian Parliament on whether the Conservative party government would revoke the Internet Service funding provided to public libraries and community centers. In the article, the government seemed ambivalent on the importance of continuing to fund such as program despite its obvious benefits to Canadians nation-wide. I’m not sure how much I believe Industry Minister Tony Clement’s comment that the cessation of the program was all just a misunderstanding. The most irksome quote from the article is “Mr. Clement said the money for libraries and community centres will be ramped down when more Canadians have the opportunity to pay for high-speed Internet at home.” Please tell me Mr. Clement when do you anticipate this miraculous day will come? Although the defenders of Net Neutrality are fighting for equal internet access across the board, it is pretentious to assume that one day high-speed internet at home will be a reality for all citizens. I wonder if Mr Clement is aware of the case of Kevin Barbieux’s Homeless Guy blog. I sincerely doubt that he is aware of this blog or the reality of the many citizens who depend on the free internet service of public libraries and community centers.  How can the Mr. Clement think he can justify the abolition of a program that provides an essential service to people below poverty line who might not even have a home let alone high speed internet access? I am glad to see in the article so much opposition by defenders of community rights. I admit that I only heard of this situation today, but librarians need to be proactive fighting irrational government decisions in order to protect the rights of our users! If we don’t, who will?

Lots of things to think about. I would love to hear your opinions on the matter.</p

Christopher Marsden speaks on Net Neutrality at McGill

22 Jan

Chris Marsden PhotoLast week, I attended a fascinating talk on Net Neutrality hosted by Media@McGill featuring Christopher Marsden. Christopher Marsden is a professor at the School of Law at the University of Essex and a guru on the legal implications surrounding information transfer.

Net Neutrality is a term that I had heard thrown around a lot recently and I was interested in attending the talk because I still did not have a clear idea of how to define the concept and I was curious to learn more. I assumed that Net Neutrality referred to the opportunity the web provides to obtain Open Source software and applications such GIMP 2  and Open Office or the possibility the web offers to consult material made available through Open Access publishing. This talk, however, focused more on the pricing of Internet Service Providers and the regulations in place in Europe and in North America to ensure that consumers have a right to basic internet service. When I first walked into the room, I noticed that it was packed with students and faculty none of whom I recognized as being from SIS. The Power Point Intro Slide read “Medium Law and Network Neutrality – History, Common Carriage, Bottlenecks and Oligopoly “, “Oh my God!” I thought; I had no clue what that title even meant! Since I knew the speaker taught at a faculty of law, I was concerned that I had unknowingly walked into a talk directed at law students and that I should leave while I still had a chance. Luckily I stayed and learned about network capacity and the hidden costs of the internet. Most of the students and faculty present were from Communications or Media Studies. However, these issues have huge implications for Information Professionals such as librarians and I wish some of my fellow SIS students had attended.

It is fascinating to think of how fast the internet evolves and one of Chris Marsden’s points was the difficulty of Internet Service Providers to predict the changes in consumer needs and wants. Originally the internet was primarily text based and therefore basic internet service was more than adequate. However, with arrival of Napster, consumers demanded much faster network capacity (do you remember how exciting it was when a song took less than twenty minutes to download?). Now consumers want to upload photos and stream videos to their hearts’ content which requires extremely fast networks but they don`t want to pay more than they did for the basic service. The most alarming concept for me as an information professional is the idea of price scaling which means that network providers could charge more for different types of service (websites with more applications). In a tech-based society where so much information is shared on the web, especially through Web 2.0 technologies, having network services with differentiating prices would reinforce a tier-society of those who could access online information and those who could not. From Chris Marsden’s talk, I took away the idea that since network providers are companies seeking to make a profit, as librarians, we must fight to keep the information highway open to everyone by lobbying for Net Neutrality and for striving to keep our users information and technology literate through open technology in the library and programs like workshops that users to develop the knowledge and skills crucial for their advancement in our internet-based society.

Chris Marsden also took the opportunity to promote his upcoming book on the same subject as his talk Net Neutrality: towards a co-regulatory solution The book is not yet available in print but while waiting you can also pick up Chris’ previous publications Regulating the global information society (2000) and Codifying cyberspace : communications self-regulation in the age of Internet convergence (2008). I cannot say that I completely agreed with everything that he said on the topic of Net Neutrality but he is incredibly knowledgeable man and I count myself fortunate that I could attend this talk. Thank you Media@McGill for hosting this great speaker! In the future I will consult their list of events with greater interest.