Net neutrality | Public Libraries | Access
A Q&A with NYPL president Tony Marx and associate director of information policy Greg Cram
The FCC will vote on a measure today that would repeal net neutrality and pave the way for the end of the free, open internet as we’ve always known it. Librarians aren't happy about it.
Yesterday, The Verge published an op-ed written by the heads of the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Library, and the Queens Library systems, which called the measure “appalling,” and argued that the end of an open internet would contribute to inequality of education and opportunity, widening “the already yawning digital divide.” Later, in a phone call, the New York Public Library’s CEO and president Anthony Marx and associate director of information policy Greg Cram broke the issue down further, explaining exactly which library resources an open internet protects, who would be hurt the most by net neutrality’s rollback, and why handing the internet to ISPs could threaten the basic foundation of American democracy.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What stake do public libraries have in this issue?
Greg Cram: So, for fiscal year 2017 [the New York Public Library] provided 3.1 million computer sessions — and that’s sessions across all of the branches — using 4,700 computers. And in addition to that, we provided 3 million wireless sessions. For the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 we had 16.2 million pageviews on our digital collections.
Anthony Marx: That gives us a little bit of the sense of the scale of how much of the library goes across wires, and the simple fact is that the poorest of New York rely on the library as the only place they can go and get free use of computers and free Wi-Fi. It’s one of the reasons why the library is the most visited civic institution in New York. We have also, in recent years, been lending people what we call hot spots, which are Wi-Fi boxes they can take home, typically for a year. That gives them digital access at home — broadband access — which something like 2 million New Yorkers can’t afford and don’t have. We’re still doing thousands of those. We’d like to do more and we’re exploring how to do more, because in this day and age, if you don’t have internet access that works and goes fast enough, you can’t do your homework, you can’t do research, you can’t apply for jobs, you can’t find jobs.