With a new president taking office soon, it is no surprise that advocacy groups wishing to solidify their positions are also growing their memberships. One of these groups is a coalition that released a set of Principles for Technology Rights and Opportunity. Its goal is to ensure that the policies of the incoming administration support freedom of speech, equal opportunities for all, and, perhaps most importantly, technology that fosters economic opportunity and education.
On Dec. 6, 2016, the American Library Association (ALA) became one of the 18 organizations to support the seven principles outlined on the coalition’s website. ALA is the oldest and largest library association in the world, and it has about 57,000 members from all types of libraries.
ALA’s president, Julie Todaro, explains why ALA chose to join the coalition: “As an association representing libraries, librarians, library professionals, and stakeholders, ALA is proud to be part of a large coalition advocating for technology rights and opportunity. Libraries serve all constituents, including people of color, immigrants, people with disabilities, and the most vulnerable people in our communities.”
Closing the Digital Divide
As the gap in the availability of technological advancements and digital literacy training grows ever wider, the goal to provide and support access to the tools required to bridge the digital divide has become even more critical. According to a Pew Research Center report from September 2016, “[A]doption of technology for adult learning in both personal and job-related activities varies by people’s socio-economic status, their race and ethnicity, and their level of access to home broadband and smartphones.”
The new coalition hopes to narrow this gap for all Americans. As of Dec. 12, 2016, the other signers of its principles are 18MR.org, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), the Center for Media Justice (CMJ), the Center for Rural Strategies, Color Of Change, Common Cause, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press, the Media Mobilizing Project, Native Public Media, the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), Open MIC, Public Knowledge, and the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication (OC), Inc.
These organizations, while advocating for groups such as rural communities, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans, are also supportive of providing access to and maintaining an open and free internet, combating inequities in media access and coverage in diverse communities, and preserving the basic rights and freedoms needed for a modern democracy.
The seven Principles for Technology Rights and Opportunity are as follows:
- Access: Everyone should have affordable, high-quality options to access the internet. All of the information on the public internet should be accessible to all users.
- Openness: The internet must be protected from discrimination against content or users, and individuals should have the right to create, innovate, and share without interference from gatekeepers.
- Inclusion: The expansion of technology must equally take into account the needs of all Americans and not discriminate against people of color; rural, tribal, and low-income communities; people with disabilities; or other vulnerable communities.
- Free Speech: Individuals must be able to express themselves freely online and offline. The government should not put up barriers to lawful expression or censor the internet.
- Choice: Our internet infrastructure should be diverse, decentralized, and open, with a competitive choice of providers.
- Privacy: Individuals should have the right to protect and control access to their personal data, and to communicate and access information without any undue intrusion from government or corporations. The government and private actors must also be transparent about the data they collect and how it is stored, used, and shared.
- Opportunity: Technology policy must strive to support economic opportunity for all.
These goals significantly mirror the mission of ALA: “[T]o provide leadership for the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.”
Why are these principles so important? Ensuring equal access and, more importantly, broadband access to the internet has become a critical component of success at finding information about jobs, health, education, and even entertainment. Per a Pew Research Center report, “Home Broadband 2015,” broadband access is readily available in only 67% of American households. Cost was cited as the most common barrier to access (see the image in the upper-right corner of this article).
The libraries ALA represents may very well be the only resource for many Americans who are seeking broadband access. Hopefully, the incoming president will also support policies and procedures that will provide more equal access to all. And if not, at least ALA and its members will.
Success in the Modern World
Success in today’s world is becoming dependent on the ability to access and effectively use the internet. An understanding of what is real and what is false or simply hype on the internet has become crucial too. ALA will be releasing a series of briefs on national issues, the first three of which launched in November: “Libraries Help and Honor Our Veterans: Employment, Education, and Community Connection,” “One Small Business at a Time: Building Entrepreneurial Opportunity in America’s Communities,” and “America’s Libraries: Powering Broadband Adoption, Access, and Use.”
Todaro says that “providing internet access to grassroots America beyond the library’s doors and being able to provide it at the household level will be crucial as more and more elements of modern life shift to the internet.” The time has come to ensure that Americans—regardless of their location, social class, community, and ethnic background—have the tools to succeed in the internet-driven economy, and remain, as Abraham Lincoln said, a nation created “by the people, for the people.”