‘Schools Can’t Police Providers.’ Education Leaders Call For Restoration...

Policy and Government

‘Schools Can’t Police Providers.’ Education Leaders Call For Restoration of Net Neutrality Rules

By Jenny Abamu     May 14, 2018

‘Schools Can’t Police Providers.’ Education Leaders Call For Restoration of Net Neutrality Rules

Last December the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality, a set of rules prohibiting broadband providers from prioritizing web traffic. In response, this Wednesday, senators will have the opportunity to vote on a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that could block the FCC’s repeal, restoring net neutrality rules.

Joining together in a unique showing of solidarity during a press phone call this afternoon, public library and education technology leaders took a stance in favor of the resolution, noting that the repeal of net neutrality posed risks for public research and broadband access in K-12 schools.

“The bottom line is, what the FCC has done has removed the guardrails for school districts. Now school districts are expected to become the police of the internet in order to make sure their service provider is not doing bad behaviors,” explains Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), an organization that supports technology leaders in schools. “They are thrust into the regulator’s role.”

Krueger notes that for many districts—particularly those in rural communities with part-time staff—the expectation that they will have to review terms of agreements or other documents from internet providers for information about which websites operate efficiently adds an extra layer of work for already busy positions. Pointing to the limitations of transparency agreements that the FCC insisted would remain, Krueger sees the shift of burden transferring to overwhelmed school officials that may not know how to address problems.

In addition, he notes that the loss of net neutrality could raise prices and reduce options for students in communities that are already limited and struggling to find providers. Even in big cities, many schools only have a single option for a broadband provider, making it difficult for districts to hold them accountable if they begin to throttle certain websites.

“I am not saying that the sky will fall tomorrow, but there is no real regulatory process in which to deal with problems that arise,” says Krueger.

Most school districts won’t even notice what is happening until the changes impact their classrooms directly, he continues. This may look like a teacher trying to access a site they included in their lesson plan for the day only to see that the page suddenly starts moving slowly—offering the educator a frustrating experience as they struggle to get through the material and to maintain students’ attention.

“It doesn’t take once or twice of having that experience before they give up on that website. It could otherwise be highly valuable,” explains Tracy Weeks, the director of The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). “They need to be able to rely on the resources.”

Library Leaders Speak Out

Library officials, one of the largest providers of public information inside and out of schools, also pointed to concerns about the ability to upload and download free materials for users. Leaders from the American Library Association and Association of Research Libraries noted that many innovative and smaller digital content providers lacked the resources to pay additional fees to avoid being throttled.

“In a world where libraries and other non-commercial enterprises are limited to the internet slow lane while HD movies contain preferential treatment undermines the central priorities for a democratic society,” explains Larra Clark, deputy director of the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy.

Clark notes that libraries host popular historical video archives that include interviews with figures such as officials working on the Manhattan Project, a World War II effort to create the atomic bomb. Libraries also host other local music and videos that can be streamed online for free.

She says that changes to net neutrality rules might make it difficult for members of the public who don’t have internet access at home to obtain this type of information.

“Internet speed can make a great difference in how a user receives and uses information. Even slight slowdowns will have an impact that could potentially limit public access to schools, libraries and public education,” Clark continues.

Yet, even if the Senate bill to restore net neutrality passes, education officials acknowledge that there is little chance that President Trump will sign it into effect. But Clark believes districts and libraries must continue to show support for the legislation on behalf of their members.

“The will of the people is that we should have net neutrality protections and I think that is important even if members of Congress don’t immediately see this,” says Clark. “We have a real concern about [internet service providers] serving as gatekeepers.”

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