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Net Neutrality’s Effect on K-12 Education

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on February 26, 2015 enacted “strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future.” By reclassifying Internet service under Title II of the Communications Act, the Internet will be regulated as a public utility. The bottom line of this “Net Neutrality” for consumers means no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization by providers whether they access the Internet on a desktop computer or a mobile device.

But what does this mean for school districts?

The goal of President Obama’s 2013 ConnectED Initiative – connecting 99% of American students to next-gen broadband by 2018 – directs the federal government to make better use of existing funds that get Internet connectivity and educational technology into classrooms. Since 1996, telecommunications companies have been required by law to make contributions to a universal service fund (USF) that ensures disadvantaged schools have access to basic telecommunications service. Most providers pass this along as a phone bill item. Schools apply for discounted services through these E-rate funds according to the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunches. As more and more phone customers abandon traditional land lines, USF rates for those people still paying increased, placing an unfair burden on traditional telephone users who tend to be lower income families. Reclassifying Internet as a public utility broadens this revenue base, keeping the program solvent.

The Order also creates an equal web access playing field by ensuring no sites pay more for equal access, which is vital for smaller ed tech companies when competing with industry giants. Included in the Order and of particular importance to school districts and libraries working to bring fiber to their buildings is Section 224, which ensures fair access to poles and conduits, making it much simpler and cost effective for districts to obtain rights of way needed for fiber construction. This boosts both self-provisioning and access to new service providers needing to build networks.

However, there is still much debate on this Order. What do YOU think of Net Neutrality?