Opinion: From Neutrality to Inequality: Why the FCC Is Dismantling Equal Access and What It Could Mean for Education

"Faculty members who teach face-to-face may imagine that last week's vote by the Federal Communications Commission to dismantle net neutrality doesn't touch them, since their instruction is exclusively on campus, not plugged in to the web. Unfortunately, they're mistaken,"  Robert Ubell writes in an opinion article for EdSurge.

"Online or off, teaching and doing research in today’s immersive digital environment makes it almost impossible for anyone—even technophobes—to hide from the web. These days hardly a class exists at any college or university that operates without logging onto a learning management system. The college library, catalog, financial aid, admissions, registration, and of course, the school’s website, all have important digital services and are all easily accessible on the net. Today, no one can teach, perform research, issue grades, enroll, or engage in a thousand and one other routine functions, without clicking on a computer or smartphone. Like blood rushing through the university’s veins, the internet is the juice that connects everything.

Previous FCC standards for the internet were mandated in 2015 under President Obama and initiated earlier in the Bush administration with the FCC’s Open Internet Order in 2010. Core net-neutrality principles go back to the very early days of the web with its cyber-utopian ideals. Under previous FCC action, internet-service providers (ISP) were prohibited from blocking, slowing-down or speeding-up access to web content and services. The old rules also prevented providers from charging content producers and customers extra fees for faster service. Under the new FCC guidelines, these historic protections will now be crippled.

That’s why nearly every major higher education body—American Association of Universities, Council of Independent Colleges, and EDUCAUSE, among nearly a dozen others—has come out against the move led by FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, the new FCC chair who is a former Verizon senior executive.

Key higher-ed technology executives, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, warn that 'One thing is certain: After December 14, higher education will face a new online world—one in which the almighty dollar, not equity, will reign.'

Jon Fansmith, of the American Council on Education, told Inside Higher Ed that the cost to schools is likely to be 'massive' as 'there is no part of higher education that doesn’t depend on the internet.' Of course, elite institutions with deep pockets will easily sustain the blows, but smaller, less well-heeled schools will bear the brunt along with public universities that already suffer austerity."

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Publication Date: 12/22/2017

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