Repeal of Net Neutrality and Possible Impact on the Educational Field

Government Oversight Over the Internet and Net Neutrality

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the door for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s oversight of the Internet through the inclusion of the term Internet under the definition for incidental interlata services (47 USCS § 271 g, d, 2). Even though one of the purposes of the Telecommunications Act was “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation” (47 USCS § 230 b, 2), the Act established a precedent for the government to develop rules and regulations over the Internet. The FCC later added additional clarity to its role when it approved new rules to regulate broadband internet as a public utility “to ensure that no content is blocked and that the Internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for Internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else” (Ruiz & Lohr, 2015). This concept used to describe a free Internet is known as “network neutrality”, or more commonly referred to as “net neutrality”, is credited Tim Wu who was an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School at the time (Fung, 2015; Wu 2002; Wu, 2003).

Repeal of Net Neutrality and Possible Impact on the Educational Field

Unfortunately, these regulations were short-lived. The FCC recently repealed the net neutrality rules taking effect on June 11, 2018 creating the potential for companies to favor select Internet traffic over others by increasing or decreasing speed and access to various web sites and services (Reardon, 2018). While the education field has not been affected by the change in these regulations yet, this could potentially impact nearly every school district’s and university’s services from operations to teaching and learning. This is particularly relevant today given the near ubiquitous adoption of Internet technologies to increase productivity in nearly every aspect in classrooms, schools, and colleges (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.).

Higher Costs

One area where the repeal of neutrality is that costs could increase for educational resources and services. Internet service providers and larger corporations that manage different components of the internet could charge more or conversely throttle speed to select online curricular resources. Curriculum supervisors would need to consider additional costs and potential surcharges to prioritize access to Internet-based resources in schools. Funds may also be needed to prioritize bandwidth to access other external resources, particularly relevant as more school districts and universities move to cloud computing services (Bock, 2013; Zimmerman, 2018). Similarly, districts and universities may need to allocate additional funds to pay for a prioritized internet traffic for stakeholders like parents to access web sites off campus like their homepages and learning management systems.

Limited Selection of Ed Tech Service Providers

The repeal of net neutrality could also negatively impact the number of competitors developing and offering educational solutions. Currently, the free internet permits small educational technology start-ups equal access to schools and universities as larger corporations and companies. This repeal could drive ongoing costs too high for these new start-ups to remain competitive, possibly limiting the diversity and innovation in the field.