We educators depend on the internet to communicate with our students, share files, and sometimes teach classes entirely through the medium. We depend on having a good workable service.
That is now under threat. The end of net neutrality and the relegation of secondary purposes like ours to the slow lane threatens our work. It’s not just that almost everything we do will get slower, we will also be forced to pay a premium for some services.
There are few professions to which net neutrality is as important as it is to educators. We need to realize its important and act in its defense.
Why Net Neutrality Matters to Education
For education, this presents a dangerous precedent where the content and tools that schools, teachers, students and learners (of all ages) use may be subject to corporate interests. These new rules are particularly worrisome for educators who constantly fight for budget resources to support technology adoption and rely on web tools as a supplement to instruction in the classroom.
Although many schools heavily filter web content to comply with federal e-rate regulations, the loss of net neutrality would immediately impact:
- Free and open source web tools for education that could be edged out by for-profit competitors who can afford to pay for better access to their customers.
- Open source textbook adoption initiatives that rely on volunteer work and donations to create content could suffer from lower-tier access in schools.
- Wikis and collaborative sites that allow for educators to share content could be edged out by larger resource-sharing sites that can afford to pay for faster access to schools.
- School and university libraries that serve as gateways for hard-to-access information, as lesser-used databases and niche research tools for academics would suffer from 3rd party interference from larger publishers.
The FCC’s new rules could effectively create a new kind of digital divide among students, according to this Huffington Post piece:
If schools use an online curriculum made by a company that cut a deal with Verizon, students who subscribe to Verizon’s Internet service at home would have an advantage over other students who subscribe to another provider.
The increased costs that some companies will pay to the ISPs will be passed on to consumers, educational institutions and small companies that are already quite cash strapped. Startups looking to compete with incumbent companies also ought to be concerned with how the new rules might affect the competitive playing field in the marketplace.