Supporters of net neutrality marked two important developments in recent days. On Tuesday, January 16, it was revealed that 50 senators have now committed to a bill that would block the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December repeal of net neutrality rules. In addition, as the New York Times reported, more than 20 states have now begun a battle in the courts to block the FCC’s repeal.
Codified by the FCC in 2015, net neutrality rules were created to keep Internet service providers from favoring certain websites or content over others. But, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry explains, the FCC’s repeal last month now paves the way “for an Internet that works more like cable television;” a “pay-for-play” system where content providers could be forced to “negotiate with multiple ISPs to avoid their content being buried, degraded, or even blocked.”
Polls and public comments show the move to repeal net neutrality is broadly unpopular. It is also potentially dangerous. In comments to the FCC, a coalition of the nation’s top library associations stressed that preserving an open Internet is “essential to our nation’s freedom of speech.” And, in a letter to the FCC, 1,838 members of the Authors Guild demonstrated that American authors also unequivocally recognize the danger of the FCC’s action.
“As authors, we rely on the Internet to make our voices heard,” the guild letter states, concluding that the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality protections “will harm the free speech of American writers.”
But a key voice remains noticeably absent from the net neutrality debate: publishers. Despite widely expressed concerns that the FCC’s action could negatively impact free speech, and in contrast to concerted efforts to preserve net neutrality by others in the publishing ecosystem—including the library community, authors groups, and dozens of media and public advocacy organizations, including PEN America—the Association of American Publishers has yet to release a single statement on the issue and has taken no formal position.
We recognize that publishers and the AAP have limited resources and must prioritize the issues they choose to take on. However, supporting free speech is one of the AAP’s core policy areas. Which is why publishers can no longer sit this one out.
Following the FCC’s repeal, restoring net neutrality protections is going to be an uphill political battle. But it is not too late for publishers to stand up for free speech, and to stand with their readers, their authors, and the library community.
With the battle headed to Congress, now is the time to make that stand. AAP president and CEO Maria Pallante is widely known for her policy acumen and her relationships in Congress. And as widely recognized champions of free speech, a strong, unified statement from America’s book publishers can make a critical difference.