How Ending Net Neutrality Will Harm Writers and Readers

by PEN American Center    /  July 22, 2014  / No comments

Net Neutrality

Photo: Free Press. Creative Commons.

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will stop accepting comments from the public about whether to restore net neutrality to the internet. The agency will now have to begin arduously reading each of the nearly 700,000 comments it received from a deeply concerned public, who were so impassioned in their efforts to save the open web that the FCC servers crashed in response to the high volume of submissions.

Writers, too, are extremely concerned. As we explained in our post in March, the end of net neutrality means that the providers of the internet backbone will be able to discriminate against content traveling over the web. Using tools such as deep packet inspection, they can look at information moving through their networks and decide never to deliver it if they don’t like what they see. This is terrible for writers, especially dissidents and authors writing about unpopular or controversial themes. The second aspect of net neutrality is that the web could essentially be divided into a slow lane and a fast lane. Only those with enough money will be able to get their content to reach audiences. This means that human rights reporting and stories by marginalized communities will almost certainly be trounced by Justin Bieber videos.

We reached out to our members for their feedback on how ending net neutrality might affect them. We found that net neutrality dramatically impacts the ability of authors of all kinds to conduct research and to reach readers. These are cornerstones of freedom of expression. Children’s book authors would not be able to research their topics, according to Susanna Reich:

Children’s books are probably not the first thing people think of when considering Net Neutrality. And yet as an author of both fiction and nonfiction books for kids, I need unfettered access to all types of material on the Internet because I conduct a great deal of my research online. If commercial content is more readily, or more quickly, available, than other types of content (such as scholarly articles or library records), the integrity of my research will be compromised.

Translators would have trouble finding audiences, according to Alta L. Price:

Translators play a key role in bringing ideas across borders of all sorts: conceptual, ideological, cultural, political, economic, and other such barriers are precisely what we aim to overcome. We rely upon net neutrality to both find new voices in need of a broader audience and then bring those voices to the Anglophone world. Introducing a fee-based Internet would demolish much of the progress made over the past two decades.

It’s not too late to share your voice with PEN on this issue. Although the FCC deadline closes today, the agency will not make a final decision until fall 2014. Are you a writer who cares about net neutrality? Let us know. You can write me at deji [at] pen.org. Please let me know if you would like to remain anonymous or if we can use your name.

This article, by Deji Olukotun, was originally published by PEN America on July 15, 2014.

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