Archivists on the Issues: Net Freedom and the Federal Communication Commission

Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. Today’s  post comes from Section intern Samantha Brown, an Assistant Archivist at the New-York Historical Society.


On December 14, the Federal Communication Commission, also known as the FCC, is expected to hold a vote that will decide the fate of Net Neutrality. This vote will likely change the landscape of the internet (Giles 2017). After hearing about this vote, SAA’s President, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, wrote a letter to the FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai. In this letter, she writes that the removal of Net Neutrality rules undermined “…the ability of archives to provide equitable and unfettered access to our shared cultural heritage and will penalize users of archival information from many research communities…” (SAA 2017). To understand the gravity of this vote and how it will directly affect archives, we first must understand what Net Neutrality is.

When someone gets on their computer and wants to visit a website, their browser is connected to their chosen site by their internet provider, also known as the ISP. Currently, the user understands that they will be connected to their chosen site without the ISP interfering with the data they are receiving. This is the main idea behind Net Neutrality (Save the Internet). The rules that the FCC currently have in place guarantee that all websites operate on a level playing field (Feldman 2017). An ISP cannot provide a fast lane to those companies that have the ability to pay more for prioritization (Giles 2017).

Without Net Neutrality rules in place, many fear that ISPs like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon could “…block websites or content they don’t like or applications that compete with their own offerings” (Save the Internet). Services from libraries, archives, and other cultural heritage organizations that are increasingly providing access in a digital environment could easily be disrupted (Peterson 2014). Many of these organizations work with and provide voices to groups that express dissenting viewpoints. The fear is internet providers could be pressured to block websites that feature content that opposes the government or major companies (Newton 2017).

Right now it’s hard to know how many of these fears are justified since no one really knows what the internet will be like in the United States without Net Neutrality. The best way we can currently form an idea of what to expect is to look at other countries that operate without the rules we currently have in place. Fears about the suppression of dissenting viewpoints may not be completely unjustified. In 2005, a Canadian telecom company, Telsus, blocked access to a union website that was working to promote a strike against the company. If companies are able to privilege access to specific apps and websites without oversight, then certain brands and ideas may be granted dominance over others (Glaser 2017). This begs the question, what would happen to the voices of marginalized groups in America without the protections of Net Neutrality (Save the Internet)?  Would organizations working to preserve the history of marginalized groups have access to their websites and online resources limited?




Feldman, Brian. “Without Net Neutrality, What Happens to My Netflix?” Select All, New York Magazine, 21 Nov. 2017,

Glaser, April. “What the Internet Is Like in Countries Without Net Neutrality.” Slate Magazine, 8 Dec. 2017,

Giles, Martin. “Killing net neutrality is bad news for startups-and the customers they want to serve.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 7 Dec. 2017,

“Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now.” Save the Internet, Free Press,

Newton, Creede. “Digital advocates decry US plan to end net neutrality.” Al Jazeera News, Al Jazeera, 22 Nov. 2017,

Peterson, Andrea. “Why the death of net neutrality would be a disaster for libraries.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 May 2014,

“SAA Urges FCC to Preserve Existing Net Neutrality Provisions.”, Society of American Archivists, 4 Dec. 2017,



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