The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that on May 15, at its Open Public Meeting, it will consider and vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to seek public comment on revised net neutrality rules. These rules would govern the ability of internet service providers (ISPs) to block transmission of particular online content or prioritize the transmission of some content over other content.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that on May 15, at its Open Public Meeting, it will consider and vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to seek public comment on revised net neutrality rules. These rules would govern the ability of internet service providers (ISPs) to block transmission of particular online content or prioritize the transmission of some content over other content. This new NPRM responds to a 2014 federal court decision that struck down the FCC’s previous approved rules on this topic. The FCC is currently crafting the NPRM, and no drafts are available to the public at this time.
Just the announcement of an upcoming NPRM has already stirred great interest and controversy. FCC Chairman Wheeler indicated that he is interested in exploring allowing ISPs to enter into agreements with content providers to provide faster levels of service — or a “fast lane” — as long as those agreements are “commercially reasonable.” Supporters of the concept of a free and open internet, where ISPs cannot favor certain digital content over other digital content, decried this proposal immediately. They claim it will favor large content providers that can afford to pay additional fees for faster speeds, such as Google and Netflix, over smaller content providers, thereby disadvantaging the smaller companies and stifling innovation. Chairman Wheeler, for his part, suggests that the establishment of a fast lane that “degrades service … would be shut down.” This suggests that ISPs could not slow existing service speeds for a fast lane but that they might be able to create a fee-based service with speeds in excess of existing service.
In the education realm, it remains unclear how or if the FCC’s approval of “fast lanes” would impact schools. On one hand, it is possible that schools might have to pay more to the large content providers if they pass along costs that arise from the “fast lanes.” Also, schools would likely receive content from smaller providers at speeds slower than content in the “fast lanes.” On the other hand, schools might receive a lot of content faster from large content providers, and the additional costs to schools might be negligible or nonexistent. It is also worth noting concerns that the increase costs of doing business online engendered by the rise of “fast lanes” could cause some small content providers to limit their offerings or close and others to never build new content. On this point, Chairman Wheeler says, “If we get to a situation where arrival of the ‘next Google’ or the ‘next Amazon’ is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority.”
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) supports efforts to ensure that the internet remains open as a source of content for schools, students and educators. The use of digital tools in the classroom is the new normal. Educators are incorporating online content to create personalized learning environments and engage students in project-based learning to prepare our students for college and career in the 21st century global — and digital — economy. As the FCC moves forward and considers new net neutrality regulations, it should evaluate the impact on schools and digital learning, including potentially higher costs and reduced digital offerings, of any proposals that it adopts.