Education Opinion

Educators: Defend Net Neutrality!

By Justin Reich — May 14, 2014 3 min read
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As the Internet has grown central to the work of schools, educators have benefitted from a policy framework known as “Net Neutrality.” This was one of the core principles of the Internet as it developed: that every bit traveled along the lines at the same speed as every other bit. Much of the work that teachers and students do on the Web is economically marginal: we’re not shopping or streaming videos from subscription services. When schools use the Web for nearly every activity they do, they benefit from policies that ensure that every bit they ask for travels as quickly as the bits sent by Amazon or Netflix.

Now, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been working for years to change this policy framework, so they can charge companies a fee (inevitably to be passed on to consumers) for sending their bits faster. In general, this would be terrible for the Internet as we know it, especially for the innovative sites and services that pop up in strange, poorly-funded places. For educators, it would be particularly terrible,since our economically marginally activities are all going to end up in the slow lane. All the cool work that students are posting online would get sent to the slow lane, behind the bits of Internet giants.

The ISPs are one step closer to their goal with the FCC’s “Open Internet” proposal from commissioner Tom Wheeler. In this case, “open” refers to opening the Internet up to differential pricing.

Tomorrow, a coalition of organizations and Internet-activists are coming together to petition the FCC to change course and defend Net Neutrality. There will be rallies at the FCC in Washington D.C. and at some of their satellite offices. There are also a variety of public awareness and citizen action campaigns.

One of the challenges of these issues is that they are complicated. Vi Hart has a great introduction here.

Fortunately, the next step is safeguarding Net Neutrality is simple. The FCC should classify ISPs as Common Carriers, a designation that would require them to send everyone their bits at the same speed. There is a long history of why they haven’t, but from recent actions by the courts and this [bad] proposal from Wheeler, it’s clear that this needs to to be the next step.

Tomorrow, educators who care about the future of the Internet should take at least one civic action to advocate for Net Neutrality.

Probably the most direct action that you can take is calling the FCC. Our friends at Reddit have made it very easy. They even figured out the phone tree in advance. You pretty much just punch in numbers, wait for an operator, and say “I’m calling to ask the FCC to reclassify Internet Service Providers as Title Two Common Carriers.” (Don’t worry, the ISP’s won’t get Title II funds for professional development. If you are both an ed policy and Internet policy nerd, that’s pretty much the most hilarious joke ever told.)

Next, of course, is to call your elected representatives and let them know where you stand on this issue: Follow the link here from Free Press’s Save the Internet campaign: http://www.savetheinternet.com/what-can-i-do

If meme-advocacy is your thing, then let me suggest Media Justice’s Instagram campaign: http://bit.ly/NNinstagram #mediajustice

It’s a hold a sign, take a selfie, post it online kind of thing. Probably should play second fiddle to calling public officials, but this would be a great activity for while you are on hold with the FCC.

Finally, teachers have a special role to play in, well, teaching. If you can, let students research the perspectives of different parties on this issue. They will find a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to defend net neutrality, and the major American ISPs--who currently offer some of the worst service, slowest speeds, most discriminatory development practices, and highest prices in the developed world--lining up to say that being able to charge people more to access the content they want most will be good for them. The kids will figure this one out.

I leave you with this image, what your Internet bill will look like if the ISPs win:

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visitEdTechResearcher.

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