Ed-Tech Companies Concerned About FCC Net Neutrality Proposal

By Benjamin Herold — July 02, 2014 2 min read
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Cross-posted from the Marketplace K-12 blog.

Four education organizations today filed strong objections to the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed net neutrality rules that, if adopted, could result in slower Internet delivery for ed-tech companies that don’t “pay to play.”

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. Schools could face slower Internet delivery under the proposed rules.

The three education businesses—General Assembly, Codeacademy, and CodeCombat—and one non-profit, OpenCurriculum, provided their feedback to the commission online, where public comments are being accepted until July 15.

Their opposition to the FCC’s proposal, which the commissioners are expected to vote on later this year, can be summarized in four main points. They say that the proposal, if adopted, would:

  • Threaten many Internet users’ online experience by relegating them to a “slow lane” of content delivery;
  • Undermine ed-tech companies’ current cost structures and divert resources away from expansion;
  • Impede the growth of the industry by making innovation more expensive; and,
  • Limit educational options, thereby reducing the number of creators, entrepreneurs and STEM-educated candidates.

“Fundamentally, this affects every technology company, and any company should be concerned about it,” said Zach Sims, co-founder and CEO of Codecademy, a New York, N.Y.-based company that offers free online computer programming courses, in an interview.

Codecademy, which has raised $12.5 million in funding from investors for its project-based training platform, might have been unattractive to investors if they had had to pay more to keep the company competitive with traditional providers of online education that charge tuition fees, according to Sims.

For OpenCurriculum, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit ed-tech startup that allows K-12 teachers around the country to create and circulate teaching materials, the issue is democratizing the ability to start a business. In a statement, CEO Varun Arora indicated that the operational cost of the entire company’s technologies for its first six months of existence was less than $20. “To my good fortune, I did not have to do a thing to ensure customers used my product over any competitive ones apart from winning in a meritocratic game by building a more and more superior product,” he said.

“We’re training thousands of students to become Web developers, Web designers, and to start their own businesses or work for small startups,” said Liz Simon, associate general counsel of General Assembly, a New York, N.Y.-based institution that offers classes and programs on 11 campuses worldwide. “They are part of a larger ecosystem, which we care about.” General Assembly teaches in classrooms and online, with Dash.

The full text of each organization’s filing with the FCC is available here: Codecademy, OpenCurriculum, General Assembly, and CodeCombat.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.