MLA Support for Net Neutrality

The Executive Council approved the letter to the FCC and the accompanying statement to MLA members in May 2014.

Statement to the MLA Membership

13 May 2014

Today, the MLA sent an open letter (see below) to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler. The letter calls on the FCC to protect the free and open nature of Internet communications, or “net neutrality.”

The Internet was built around a principle of neutrality, meaning it was designed not to discriminate among the data it transmits. All content—regardless of media type, creator or producer, distribution method (commercial or independent)—is meant to be treated equally. This principle has been supported by the FCC through its Open Internet Order.

In January 2014, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down that order, saying that the FCC had questionable legal grounds on which to adopt it. In order to preserve the fundamental openness of Internet-based communication in the United States, the FCC must act now to reclassify broadband service as “common carrier” telecommunications. Failure to do so may have deleterious effects on forms of independent, experimental, and not-for-profit communication on which scholarly communities rely.

For this reason, in its letter the MLA called on the FCC to protect the fundamental character of the Internet: open, nondiscriminatory, creative, and competitive. By taking this step, the FCC would perform a critical service for teachers, students, and researchers—and for everyone in the United States who relies on open access to the vast educational and communicative resources of the Internet.

In preparing its call to the FCC, the MLA drew on the language of a similar letter sent by thirty-three presidents, chairs, founders, leaders, and editors of twenty-seven international digital humanities scholarly organizations and platforms. This group included the chair of the MLA’s Committee on Information Technology. The MLA appreciates the advocacy done by its affiliate and peer organizations and their invitation to partner productively in this important cause.

For further information, including opportunities for individual action, please see the background information and opportunities for action collected by the Association for Computers and the Humanities.

Message to FCC

13 May 2014

Dear Chairman Wheeler,

We write as the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association of America, the principal professional organization for scholars and teachers of language and literature in the United States and the nation’s largest scholarly society.

On behalf of our nearly thirty thousand members, we urgently ask that you lead the Federal Communications Commission in protecting the fundamental character of the open, nondiscriminatory, creative, and competitive Internet. To do this, the FCC must reclassify broadband service as “common carrier” telecommunications in the United States.

We write on behalf of the members of our association—who teach, study, and research the languages and literatures of English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Japanese, among many others—and who have lobbied tirelessly for net-neutrality protections for many years. We also write in solidarity with the leaders of professional associations for the digital humanities and digital media and the journal editors who wrote to you on 29 April 2014.

Maintaining true net neutrality is imperative for continued advances in scholarship and innovation in teaching. The independent, experimental, and not-for-profit communication networks relied on by scholarly communities depend on the free interchange of information here in the United States and throughout the world.

True net neutrality

  • stimulates competition, creativity, and innovation

  • protects freedom of speech

  • promotes equal and nondiscriminatory access to information

The global nature of our membership makes us keenly aware that the world is watching the actions of the FCC. The United States must follow suit with its peers in Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and elsewhere to protect the openness and fairness of Internet communication.

Please fulfill your responsibility to the public and make it possible for the FCC to assert strong net-neutrality regulations by announcing on 15 May that you will reclassify Internet broadband providers as common carriers.


Margaret W. Ferguson, President