The Federal Communications Commission announced last week that its controversial move to roll back “net neutrality” rules will take effect next month, prompting a renewed round of concern from school and library advocates who have been fighting the plan for months.
In a statement, Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai described the move as a return to the “free and open internet” that existed before 2015, when his Democratic predecessor led an effort to pass existing rules intended to ensure that internet service providers treat all content flowing over the internet equally.
“On June 11, these unnecessary and harmful internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored,” Pai said.
In a 52-47 vote in which three Republicans joined 49 Democrats, the U.S. Senate passed a measure May 16 to repeal the net neutrality rules recently approved by the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission. But the measure faces dim prospects in the House of Representatives.
Even if it fails in the House, supporters hope renewed public attention on the issue can generate enough pressure to spur Congress to agree on a legislative compromise.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, leaders of K-12 advocacy groups decried the FCC move as opening the door for higher prices, slower connectivity, and reduced innovation for schools and libraries.
“Without net neutrality protections in place, the gaps between the schools who have access to resources and those who do not will only widen,” said Tracy Weeks, the director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, in a statement.
The FCC passed the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in a party-line vote in December. The primary effect was to reverse the commission’s 2015 decision that reclassified broadband internet service providers as common carriers, subject to regulation by the FCC. Net-neutrality proponents said such oversight was necessary to prevent companies from throttling some content while prioritizing other content. Education advocates in particular were keen to ensure that schools and libraries didn’t relegated to internet “slow lanes.”
But Pai, along with the Trump administration and many Congressional Republicans, argued that such fears were overstated, and that deregulation is necessary in order to encourage competition and innovation.
Even opponents of the move say schools and libraries are unlikely to notice any immediate changes come June 11. But long term, internet carriers could prioritize educational services with whom they have “pay-to-play deals,” potentially stifling smaller educational content creators and leaving rural schools with limited options, said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a January interview with Education Week.
Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for an FCC meeting to vote on net neutrality. --Jacquelyn Martin/AP
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.