An epic battle for a fair and open Internet is taking shape this summer, and the outcome could negatively impact our students and schools. If we lose this, the ease of sharing and accessing online information that we have come to expect will be a thing of the past. It's time for students, parents, and educators to join in this fight to save net neutrality, and we have until September 10th to let our voices be heard.
What is net neutrality? Net neutrality describes the Internet that we now have, one in which the government under Federal Communication Commission (FCC) guidelines ensures the equal treatment of all information that is sent and received online. Under net neutrality rules that have been around for decades, companies that control online communication like Comcast are prevented from picking and choosing which websites and other online resources get fast or slow access, and as a result virtually control what information is accessible at all.
Net neutrality levels the online playing field so that speed and access to online content such as videos, articles, and databases that are run by those with limited resources (such as individuals, small schools, and nonprofits), get the same priority in terms of access and communication speed as those sites as run by large organizations with huge financial resources such as Google, Exxon, and Harvard.
If net neutrality rules change in the way the FCC is proposing, a tiered system will be created so that large companies will be able to pay companies like Comcast for faster service. In fact, Netflix recently agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed sum of money so that Netflix customers can have faster access to their online movies and television shows. Before the two companies had reach this agreement, many experts argued that Comcast had been deliberately slowing down its service to Netflix. Looking at the deal from this perspective, one can argue that Comcast has been legally allowed to exhort money from Netflix to ensure reasonable access. If net neutrality rules had been upheld, this deal would not have been allowed.
Why This Matters in Education
Why is this important to parents and teachers? Net neutrality is about equality, and ensuring equity of voices and opinions. Think about the amazing opportunity that the Internet has given people who lack the financial means of large companies. Small organizations and individuals have been able to share their resources, thoughts and ideas on a global scale. Democratic revolutions have been spawned by ordinary citizens because they have been given the means to document and share their experiences. Many of those ideas might be controversial or strange, but that has been the beauty of the Internet. Online resources that are run by small businesses and nonprofits are able to thrive, and for-profits startups have the opportunity to grow and become the next Youtube or Google.
Think about how legalized inequality has affected our education community in the past. Net neutrality is analogous to the government's role in protecting equal treatment of minorities and those disenfranchised in civil rights cases, but in this case this is about the equal treatment of information -- and by extension, the equal treatment of those who are sharing that information.
If we consider the importance of Brown vs. The Board of Education as a precedent, the government declared that schools that are legally separated can never be equal as long as the majority in power controls most of the resources. Even today, we can see the difference in our schools because of the wealth gap that exists between communities, and it is only through activism and citizen participation in government that we have the means to make education fair and available to all our children.
If we then consider the revolutionary potential that the Internet can have for making education open and accessible to all, it becomes clear that the fight for net neutrality is in line with the historical struggles stretching back to the call for universal education in the nineteenth century and that is still ongoing elsewhere in the world.
Without net neutrality and without the ensured protection of equity on the Internet those who lack resources and the organizations that advocate for them could become virtually invisible. Slowing down access, or preventing access altogether, is a power that cable companies will be given if net neutrality rules are changed. Companies like Time Warner Cable and Comcast -- two companies that are trying to merge and control nearly 70 percent of the market, will have its financial power translated into direct political power. Such a centralization of power in the hands of so few should be unacceptable in a democracy, and would be detrimental to the Internet as an educational resource.
For more information on how educators can get involved, please visit the American Civil Liberties Union.