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Net Neutrality’s Effect On Education

Net Neutrality’s Effect On Education

Nov 30, 2017

How the decision to overturn net neutrality could impact students and educators.

You've probably been hearing a lot about net neutrality if you've accessed the internet in the past few months. Ajit Pai, the newly appointed chairman of the FCC, recently proposed to abolish the net neutrality rules that have been in existence for a long time. There will soon be a vote to determine whether an overturn will occur, and it seems likely that the result will be in the FCC's favor. The implications could be enormous for anyone who uses the internet, but how immense will its effect be on education? The potential impacts may surprise you and, if you don’t know much about the issue, now is the time to read up on it. Here are the things you need to know about net neutrality and how it could affect both students and educators in big ways.

What is net neutrality?

To understand net neutrality, it is perhaps easier to look at a simpler case. Consider, for example, your electricity bill. You likely have limited options when it comes to choosing your electricity company, so you are required to become a customer of your accessible company. Your electricity company issues a bill each month that may vary based on how much electricity you use, but the ways in which you use electricity are not taken into account when tallying your fees. Whether you're using overhead lights, lamps, or hair dryers, you are charged based only on the amount of electricity you use and not on how you use it. Furthermore, you receive the same strength and speed of electricity for anything you use it on, and you're never blocked from using it on specific appliances.

If you take this example and apply it to the internet, you essentially have net neutrality. Most people don't have many choices when it comes to local internet service providers (ISPs). The government has made it mandatory for ISPs to give customers equal access when it comes to internet utilization. This means that, regardless of which website, app, or streaming service you're using, ISPs are not allowed to block, slow down, or speed up your ability to access content based on various factors, such as financial incentives or partnerships.

There have been instances of ISPs illegally breaking these rules. For example, from 2011-2013, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint were blocking user access to Google Wallet. While this was happening, they were each involved in the development of a similar but alternative service to the payment platform. MetroPCS, in 2011, announced that their customers would no longer be able to utilize streaming services outside of YouTube. Both of these instances were ruled illegal but, should net neutrality be overturned, this type of activity could be considered commonplace. Manipulation of internet usage abilities would very likely occur, with ISPs being allowed to cherry-pick the content and services their customers would have access to. You may be charged a fee if you want to use social media, or have to pay more if you want to get your news from certain media outlets, or be blocked from certain streaming services. As internet users currently don't have unlimited options when it comes to ISPs, the effects could be profound.

How can it potentially affect students and educators?

Clearly, anyone who uses the internet would be affected by an overturn of net neutrality, and educators and students are no exception. In recent years, internet has increasingly played a major role in education, and there are many ways this ruling could affect it further.

  1. Access to information. The internet has been a significant and beneficial resource for both students and educators when it comes to accessing information. Overturning net neutrality could affect the quality and quantity of accessible sources. From researching multiple sides of an issue for a paper to furthering knowledge on a specific topic, this could be detrimental. It could mean that the only accessible content would present a one-sided argument, that the ability to gather additional information on a topic would be stifled, or more.

  2. Resource and tool availability. Many educators and students utilize the internet for resources and tools, such as educational supplements and websites to purchase materials. Without net neutrality, there would be less open access to these tools, leading to an essentially forced decision on those that would be utilized even though they may not be ideal or compatible with professional and personal goals.

  3. Speeds. Until now, internet speeds have remained the same regardless of content being accessed. If net neutrality is overturned, it's likely that ISPs will only allow certain unfavored content at lower internet speeds, and grant high speed access to only favored content. This could lead time lost in the classroom or to students and educators being forced to use only high speed content, which may not be the most ideal depending on the curriculum.

  4. Access to streaming content. From instructional videos to homework assignments to supplementary material used in lessons, both students and educators often use streaming content. Without net neutrality, students may have slower or less access to important content, and educators may have to select from a limited amount of material to work with.

  5. Entrepreneurial endeavors. Many startups and entrepreneurs work to provide targeted and accessible solutions to schools across the country. Innovation has affected academia immensely and, until now, education entrepreneurs have worked to bring access to these solutions to all students. Many of these companies don't have the deepest pockets and, if net neutrality is overturned, they could have a much harder time competing with favored companies. In some cases, they may even lose their ability to deliver their products to the education industry altogether.

  6. Costs. The abolishment of net neutrality could also lead to higher costs for educators and students. For example, if specific content is necessary for a lesson but a paywall is introduced, schools, students, and educators may be required to pay for the content.

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