FCC Seeks Input on 'Open' Web Rule
Education advocates worry that schools could find themselves in the slow lanes of Internet delivery if proposed "net neutrality" rules posted by the Federal Communications Commission last week are adopted as written.
Net neutrality refers to the open and free flow of content on the Web, regardless of where it originates. The new rules could leave an opening for broadband Internet providers like Verizon Communications, Comcast Corp., and Time Warner Cable to give preferential treatment to content providers that pay for the privilege of faster delivery of their content, such as streaming movies, to customers.
That prospect leaves some educators wondering whether other, less monied content providers, such as those that offer videos and other online materials to K-12 systems, would be left with slower delivery, which could ultimately hurt schools.
The FCC's proposed rules come after a January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the commission lacked the legal authority to prevent telecommunications providers from blocking the delivery of lawful online content or discriminating against certain kinds of content providers. That ruling,considered a blow against net neutrality, compelled the FCC to draw up a new plan.
The public has until July 15 to comment on the rules. Among the many questions the public will be asked to respond to are ones about whether broadband service should be treated like a utility, and whether special agreements, like recent ones between Comcast and Netflix, and Verizon and Netflix, should be permitted. In each case, Netflix agreed to pay the service provider so that its movies would be streamed faster.
Losing to Entertainment?
While potential changes to net neutrality have agitated many of those who closely monitor Internet policy, the issue has been ignored by many within K-12 circles, despite its potentially broad impact, said Douglas A. Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, in Glen Burnie, Md.
"Ultimately for educators, the access to high-capacity broadband is as important in schools today as access to electricity, plumbing, air conditioning, and heating," he said.
If education content providers are required to "pay to play" to guarantee a high-quality connection to schools, "education is going to lose versus entertainment every time," Mr. Levin said. "The only good news here is that there's four months for the education community to get educated on this and express their views to the FCC."
Creating a "fast lane" online is seen as a plus for large companies like Apple, Netflix, and Google, which could enter into agreements to get speedier service for the content they deliver. The FCC could end up ruling on whether such arrangements between individual service providers and content providers are "commercially reasonable," holding those agreements to a variety of standards.
Advocates of open-Internet policies have voiced alarm over the possibility the FCC would change the rules. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said May 15 that despite those fears, he is determined to protect open Web access.
Maureen Sullivan, a past president of the American Library Association, in Chicago, said her organization is concerned about the prospect of slower Internet speeds and higher prices for all consumers of Web content, including libraries.
"What we most want to see is that people in this country have fast and high-quality broadband access," she said, "because that broadband enables people to get the information they need and want, when they need and want it."
Vol. 33, Issue 32, Page 8