Why Net Neutrality Matters to Schools

A little history

Big, important ideas can often be overlooked because of how boring they sound to the average listener. Remember SOPA and PIPA a few years back? In addition to obscure acronyms, they were also known as HR 3261 and Senate Bill 968, respectively. Or, if you want to get really descriptive, you can go by their long titles:

“To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.” —H.R. 3261

and

Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011

Snore.


The truth of the matter is that no one would have paid attention to those two bills had it not been for the Internet. Reddit was the birthing ground of the Stop SOPA/PIPA protests, eventually gaining support from the Internet giants, Google, Facebook, Netflix, and others. The free sharing of ideas and strategy over the web allowed for the global public to stand up against dangerous legislation.

It’s been nearly four years, and the integrity of the Internet is at stake again.

Net Neutrality, in its simplest terms, means that anyone can create and share content equally across the Internet. No outside agency – be it company or individual – can limit how you transmit that information from one place to another. It’s how the Internet was designed, and how it’s been run, since the beginning. This principle is what allowed the SOPA and PIPA protests to be successful. It helped kickstart the Arab Spring (remember when Egypt turned the Internet off? That didn’t go so well.) and it’s been a major outlet for on-the-ground news through social media channels.

It also allows students and independent creators to have a level playing field with major corporations. This is why Net Neutrality matters to schools.


What’s happening now?

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon want to end regulation on the use of the Internet. The FCC used to have rules in place which regulated how ISPs could transmit data to customers. Long story short, Verizon sued the FCC, and the Supreme Court determined the regulations were outside the scope of the FCC. Now, we’re approaching the release of new regulations which have been influenced by millions upon millions of lobbying dollars on the FCC.

The new proposed rules would allow companies to create “fast lanes” of content which would be paid for by content providers like Netflix or YouTube. What are the stipulations, you ask? Those lanes must make “economic sense” to the ISPs. In other words, we’re racing for a tiered Internet if the FCC regulations are accepted and implemented.

But, it doesn’t make sense for companies to do that, so why would they?

Actually, they’ve already done it. The Oatmeal has a great post on what Comcast did to Netflix (warning: some NSFW language) in October of 2013.

The Internet has become a commodity – something we expect to be available. The simplest solution to this problem is for the FCC to classify broadband Internet access as a Title II Common Carrier, just like landline telephones. Access must be equitable and affordable, regardless of what you use it for.

Why is this important to schools?

Short and sweet: do you have the resources to make sure your content – or your students’ content – can be shared equally with Netflix or YouTube? Probably not.

The Internet is a truly democratic space. Yes, there are problems with culture, but the fact of the matter is that when your student creates a website, it is on the same playing field as every other website available. As a user, you should not be required to pay more for how you use the Internet – information cannot be classified as having higher value (monetary) than any other piece of information. It’s an invented factor being applied through brute force by corporations looking to make more money by inventing an economy of information. It isn’t right and it needs to be addressed.

What can you do?

There are various non-partisan action groups which have been battling lobbying organizations across the country. Two I recommend are Freepress.net and Fight for the Future. At the very least, sign up for one of their newsletters to receive press information, petition signups, and information on how to contact your legislator, the FCC, and the White House to voice your concern.

In 2012, I had my students write letters to our state representatives in opposition to SOPA and PIPA because of the harm they would cause to the free sharing of ideas. Net Neutrality is as important – if not more important – to schools today because of the fundamental principles underlying the creation and expansion of a free and open Internet. Ideas are important, and the Internet is crucial in sharing those ideas today. We need to be talking about this and taking action in defense of idea sharing and communication, and there’s no better place to do that than in our schools.

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