Monday, March 22, 2010

FCC Takes Public Comments on Future of Media & Information Needs of Communities in the Information Age

The FCC is taking public comments on the Future of Media & the Information Needs of Communities in the Information Age! That means libraries, as well as newspapers, blogs, the Internet, and all kinds of other information resources. The deadline has been extended to May 7. So YOU, yes, YOU can put in your two cents worth to your government.

The ALA has already put in a statement, focusing largely on public libraries, of course. (footnotes are skipped in the following excerpts)I am skipping most of the letter's excellent summary of the effects on libraries of the digital revolution -- my readers already know this because we live it. However, I really like their statement on copyright issues: D. Purchase versus Licensing.

In the digital world, content providers have adopted a business model based on licensing rather than sale. One of the important consequences of this model for libraries is that rights to the work are based on the terms of the license rather than on the carefully developed balances of copyright law. Not only do libraries have to deal with managing a variety of different restrictions based on the terms of particular licenses for particular works, but they often find use limitations on the work that undermine existing provisions in the copyright law such as those for first sale, fair use, and archiving and preservation. Furthermore, libraries are not purchasing the work, per se, but have limited access to the work for a specific time. Many libraries consider preservation and long-term access to works to be core responsibilities; rather than rent content for a limited period of time (and pay for it again once the license has expired); the library wants to be able to purchase electronic content with which to build growing collections. In the past, this decentralized system of preservation has preserved society’s knowledge base. It is not clear that a highly centralized system of distribution from commercial providers will provide similar stewardship for the nation’s cultural heritage.
I think the ALA has done an excellent job of laying out major points of how the digital transformation is affecting libraries. I recommend readers to look at the whole text; I am pleased that they have said it so well. The point of the letter, though, is what they ask the FCC to change, which is:
10. How should FCC policies change?
From a library perspective, responding to the digital transformation touches a wide range of Commission policies. Rather than survey them all, we will highlight five general areas here and identify key recent ALA comments to the Commission on those topics. ALA believes that the Commission should:
Establish a national broadband policy: The rapid digitization of media has made ubiquitous and affordable public access to high-speed digital communications a requisite, not an option. This is no less important today than when Congress, in the Communications Act of 1934, established the Commission and charged it with making available “to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, a rapid, efficient, Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.” ALA calls for a national broadband policy with goals no less ambitious. Raise the E-rate cap: Libraries are and will for the foreseeable future be essential public access and service points to digital services and media. The E-rate is vital to libraries by making telecommunication services more affordable. In the current harsh economic climate, many libraries find that their bandwidth is no longer adequate. In order to support increasing capacity, many libraries—and likely an increased number of libraries—will need to request a larger discount from the E-rate program than in the past as higher capacity service will result in higher on-going costs. The $2.25 billion cap is insufficient to meet an increase in requests for Priority One services. Additionally, the infrastructure necessary to support higher capacity bandwidth may not be in place in many libraries. We are likely to see a need for more Priority Two requests which the current cap cannot support. The current E-rate fund is insufficient for the investment needed for libraries to transition to the advanced services they now require. Assure openness and neutrality of distribution channels: ALA understands that service providers need to manage and even prioritize the traffic in their networks in order to optimize performance. However, ALA also firmly stresses the need to avoid price or technological barriers that discriminate against equitable access to resources on the Internet or that protect existing distribution and business models at the expense of new, innovative approaches. Resist pressures to regulate technological controls on content access: Although technological controls are promoted as ways to protect copyright, in reality they are usually imposed to protect contract and licensing terms (See our comments above on the trend toward licensing.) The rights and exceptions expressed in Copyright law are far too subtle and subjective to be incorporated in computer algorithms. Technological protections prevent uses beyond those proscribed by copyright law and, thus, inevitably encroach on fair use and other limitations and exceptions. Furthermore, if imbedded in the information infrastructure by regulation and law, they risk controlling access to uses of other works not even covered by the licenses. Ultimately, technological controls that are intended to protect business models can ultimately impede innovation and the development of new products. Include libraries in any new national initiative to upgrade broadband infrastructure: Libraries are widely acknowledged as a critical provider of broadband access in their communities. In 71% of communities the library is the only provider of no-fee access to the Internet. Many libraries report an increased demand for their online resources—for job searches, e-government, continuing education, and more—which is taxing library network capacity. This new demand coupled with state and local budget cuts jeopardizes the ability of many libraries to continue to meet the information needs in their communities.

Libraries are in virtually every community across the nation. Providing anchor institutions such as the library with high capacity broadband service will result in greater broadband availability and bring service to areas where availability is currently inadequate. Moreover, libraries—as is true for other community anchor institutions—will need much increased broadband capacity to support the critical new applications that will be forthcoming in the future. The critical role libraries play in connecting communities needs to be reflected by support in new national broadband initiatives, including high-capacity infrastructure build-out.
Libraries have a unique role in their communities as providers and curators of information. As the Commission examines the future of media and information needs of communities in the rapidly changing digital climate, ALA respectfully urges the Commission to consider the impact of their findings and subsequent recommendations on libraries.
Don't forget to add your own comments to the FCC!

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