On February 26th, 2015, the FCC approved new rules involving net neutrality. This means that the neither government nor Internet service providers can inhibit access to and/or creation of online content. According to NPR, “the Open Internet Order helps to decide an essential question about how the Internet works, requiring service providers to be a neutral gateway instead of handling different types of Internet traffic in different ways — and at different costs.” For many, this is a major win. Free speech advocates, like the ACLU, find that the new rules will allow open access to sharing of opinions and ideas. It also allows for the Internet to be regulated as a public utility, which could help lower costs and expand service.
So what could this mean for education? Well, the possibilities could be endless. First off, the Internet providers cannot block, impair, or favor content over other content. It also cannot interfere with what tools and applications people can access. (You can access the proposal here.) This means that start-ups and other innovators will have better chances of developing and providing educational tools to schools across the nation. Ed Central points out that, without open access, “current dominant companies producing online educational materials could afford to pay ISPs for faster access to customers, leaving behind innovative new start-ups. Under such an arrangement, emerging new content providers would be at an extreme disadvantage.” Now, with the new rules, everyone has equal chance of getting their materials to customers. This could mean more competition and more choices for educators and students.
It is not just about companies providing content. Under the new rules, expansion of strong broadband networks is possible. Last December, the FCC voted to increase E-Rate funding from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion to provide more funds for schools’ and libraries’ internet access. The net neutrality vote provides more support for this. If you are in a system where your broadband struggles to keep up with the needs of the district, this is welcome news. With new possible regulations, schools systems and the municipalities that they serve could have easier and cheaper access to better Internet.
This could also support the maker movement for schools. By allowing equal chance to get content out to the public, students could very well make their own materials, thus allowing them to build those all important skills that initiatives like Common Core, etc. are looking for. This could also be a boon for other government initiatives like FutureReady and ConnectEd. If you care about educational technology, today is a good day.
Will the new rules go into effect without challenge? Probably not. In a recent article from EdWeek, it is expected that companies that provide broadband access are most likely going to contest the new public utilities classification. In a quote to NPR, Broadband for America, a group that includes the larger Internet service providers, believes that the new ruling from the FCC is “launching a costly and destructive era of government micromanagement that will discourage private investment in new networks and slow down the breakneck innovation that is the soul of the Internet today.”
No matter what, Thursday’s ruling is definitely going to have an effect on the future of the Internet and interactions on there.