Uelma should be enacted by the states. But while its concept of verifiable authenticity is useful, compliance with that prong of the law should not lead to excessive reliance on PDF files to share legal resources in only very limited, maximally “print-like,” and insufficiently machine-readable and bulk-processable formats. Open legal resources should also allow commercial, non-profit, community, and library entities to consume relatively “raw” government resources and add the value that makes them efficient and effective tools for an informed public.
Uelma is the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act. Promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission, UELMA covers online state legal materials that are deemed “official” (while requiring that covered legal publications produced only electronically be considered official) and requires that they be produced in a way that is capable of being authenticated, that is preserved, and that is made permanently available to the public.
While the future of how (and, ultimately, by whom) broadband Internet connectivity will ultimately be regulated remains to be determined, the current moment in Net Neutrality is an interesting one for what the media interest and wave of public comment to the FCC tell us. The seemingly overwhelming endorsement by the interested public of at least some version of neutrality, and the willingness (nay, demand) to see the federal government take on a role in ensuring neutrality makes for what seems likely to be an important constitutional moment in defining the future of Internet regulation and governance, regardless of how the regulatory (or, eventually, legislative) details are hashed out.
The American public has demonstrated that it doesn’t regard broadband Internet at all as an entertainment service — as something at least metaphorically akin to the cable television programming that some of its high-bandwidth users compete with — but as something more “utility-like.” A standard fixture, like hot-and-cold water or electricity, that we expect to be served without more than a health-and-safety level regard for what particular “appliances” (literal or metaphorical) we will plug in to it. While it is certainly the case that the Internet is also not the same as the traditional telephone network, and there may well be continuing challenges with how to “fit” the various component networks of the Internet into the (1930s vintage) Communications Act and (1990s vintage) Telecommunications Act regulatory model (or to replace that model), we’ve ended up with a clear picture of broadband Internet as an essential and at least relatively mature technology that is a vital component of modern life. And we’ve seen a clear sense that internet services must continue to interconnect fully and freely and with sufficient “neutrality” that equivalent access to “the same” broader Internet is available regardless of what natural-monopoly carrier serves a particular home or business.
We’ve certainly seen what seems to me to be a really powerful endorsement by the general Internet-attuned public that we regard the network (including the last-mile networks piped to our houses) as the infrastructure for the services we care about, not as the service, and that the public actually does “get” the values behind hoary old Internet end-to-end principles.
Beyond choosing “app” or “web” mobile strategies for short-term tactical reasons, libraries have a critical stake in preserving the vitality of an open, standards-based, web. While developer-oriented platform debates between the application web and app-store frameworks can seem far removed from our stake in an open Internet, they deserve more attention from the library community and its allies.
I wrote the other day about the fairly narrow question of whether libraries should develop native apps for mobile platforms like tablets and smartphones, or rely on the web for delivery of their content and services. At least for most libraries, I came down on the side of the web. While acknowledging that needs might differ for some libraries with both very loyal (or very captive) users and a need for very tight integration with already-“appified” vended-content platforms, most libraries should devote their resources to websites while making those sites as mobile-friendly as possible. For most libraries—and certainly those I know best—it is hard to see an “app” strategy as an effective tactical use of resources.
Web Remains More Open
But my real concern goes deeper. There is a vital ongoing discussion about the ecosystem of the device-agnostic web versus the various app ecosystems. But libraries and librarians have mostly not been active enough as part of that debate. And libraries (and, for academic librarians, the scholarly institutions they serve) are parties with a real interest in a thriving, open, Web. As a profession far too often still mired in residual “print vs. online” debates, it is important that we don’t allow significant parts of the web ecosystem to decay just as we are, finally, coming to terms with our role in that ecosystem. Continue reading →
Do our metaphors for debating net neutrality leave enough room to discuss the original Web, which was glorified as a venue in which anyone could create, develop, and publish? Will concerns related to the management of an Internet of high-bandwidth video, applications, and data-driven services crowd out the ecosystem that sustains the still-vibrant “old” Internet and its “killer app,” the traditional World Wide Web of sites and “pages”?
Are the Internet and the Web a super-television, a super-telephone… or perhaps more of a super-printing-plant combined with a super-post-office? These questions of metaphor lie behind so many of the disconnects in the “net neutrality” argument, including those over whether FCC action under the Communications Act would be regulation or deregulation of the Internet.
Discussion, whether in terms of collection building or of research instruction, of print “versus” online resources is outdated and fruitless if that discussion doesn’t seek to clarify and resolve the relative existing and potential qualities of each format in terms of permanence, stability, and “structured” vs. “random” accessibility.
The classic visual impression of a library is an image of books and periodical volumes printed in ink on paper, bound together, and arranged on ranks of shelving. Depending, perhaps, on attitude of the one crafting that image, these imagined shelves might well be either an image of picturesque rows of beautifully bound classics or a vision of of dusty, dark, and utterly impenetrable frustration. But of course all libraries, and particularly academic research libraries, are also deeply engaged with non-tangible resources. Not “books,” but instead the mass of content that we variously refer to as “digital,” “electronic,” or “online” resources. Stuff that is provided to end users, usually via the Internet, out of networked computerized storage. Continue reading →
Jenna Greene, in the National Law Journal, discusses Justice Scalia’s 2005 dissent in a case upholding the FCC’s classification of cable broadband providers — the same classification that the D.C. Circuit later found exempted them from regulation as common carriers. National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services dealt with the classification of broadband cable Internet service and upheld the FCC’s 2002 classification of broadband as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service.” Scalia was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Souter in a dissent that would have found that such classification was not a reasonable interpretation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
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In a press statement today, President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission to endorse a relatively strict form of network neutrality regulation. His statement specifically endorsed classifying consumer broadband provders as telecommunications providers subject (under the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Pub. L. 104-104) to regulation as “common carriers” under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.
The New York Times reports the story here. The Presidential statement is online here.
The FCC is scheduled to vote today on a proposal from its Chairman to revise the FCC rules governing the network management practices of “last mile” wired broadband Internet providers — those (primarily cable) companies that provide broadband Internet connections to mainstream end users. The scheduled vote is to approve issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which, via the Federal Register, will be made formally available for public comment. Continue reading →
The English-language Wikipedia is ‘dark’ today, in protest against a set of bills (nick-named SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate). These bills are intended to create new tools to address both the online commerce in copyright-infringing works and of counterfeit goods (i.e. both Copyright Act and Lanham Act violations). In particular, they aim to target the use of foreign-registered websites for “piracy,” although opponents point to several ways in which domestic websites can also be affected.