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Libraries wait, worry over possible effects of net neutrality repeal

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The end of "net neutrality" is not yet a done deal. Several states, including New York, are challenging the Federal Communications Commission's recent decision to repeal the regulation requiring fair and equal access to digital data. However, public libraries are among the institutions that worry about the possible effects of lost net neutrality, including access and cost.

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library provides approximately 1,000 computers, along with free high-speed internet access, to its 37 branches.


The library system's director, Mary Jean Jakubowski, says most of the time those computers are used for job searches or other important needs, including the filing of tax information.

"Up through November 30 of this year, we've had nearly 600,000 logged computer uses throughout our library system," Jakubowski said. "Wi-fi logins are nearly 500,000." 

Many job openings, she explained, require an exclusively online application process, Jakubowski explained. Many who rely on free, high-speed access to the internet use the library's computers because they may not necessarily have access to the latest technology at home.

"Here in Western New York, people don't realize there are areas in Erie County that are on dial-up," she said. "They don't have high-speed internet access, except for what is available for free at their local library."

Earlier this month, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, the regulation requiring equal access to digital information. Critics of the move fear it will result in some information becoming more difficult - or expensive - to access.

Through a federal program, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System pays a reduced rate to provide high-speed internet access. Jakubowski says they'll do what it takes to continue providing high-speed access to clients, although there are concerns about how it may affect their budget if the net neutrality repeal ultimately stands.

"Certainly it's something we have to be taking a look at," she said. "Our goal, and the goal of all of us who are really pushing to revoke the FCC's decision, is treating all online users equally. That's the critical piece. That's democracy. That's what we believe democracy to be."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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