School stakeholders urge FCC to adopt net neutrality

Educators, ed-tech companies ask for stronger net neutrality rules to protect innovation and preserve the democratizing power of the web

An overwhelming majority of comments from education stakeholders pushed for stronger net neutrality rules.

Letting broadband companies charge more for content providers to stream their services at faster speeds threatens ed-tech innovation, thousands of school stakeholders argue.

The Federal Communications Commission’s latest “net neutrality” proposal has stirred controversy because it would allow companies like Google, Netflix, and Skype to pay extra to ensure faster transmission of their content online.

But this proposal threatens the existence of smaller companies that can’t afford to pay these higher rates, many critics say—including ed-tech startups that don’t have the resources of larger, more established competitors.

“A few years ago, you couldn’t even imagine that the internet could become a system of have and have-nots protected by corporate gatekeepers,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has written legislation to direct the FCC to ban such prioritization deals.

The FCC has struggled for years to come up with a net neutrality plan requiring broadband providers to give fair treatment to all internet traffic flowing over their networks.

The courts have limited previous attempts by the FCC to regulate broadband providers. The agency currently defines broadband as a lightly regulated information service. That means it’s not subject to the obligations that traditional telecommunications services have to share their networks with competitors and treat all traffic equally.

The FCC could use part of its charter, Title II of the Communications Act, to reclassify broadband as a public utility. That would give the agency broader authority to enforce net neutrality principles.

But the FCC is also trying to balance the objections of broadband providers and free-market supporters, who argue that imposing 1930s-era regulations on the modern internet is a recipe for disaster. Broadband providers say they should be free to charge more for an internet “fast lane” as a way to manage the increasing flow of data over their networks.

Aiming to find a middle ground, the FCC has proposed a net neutrality framework that would prohibit broadband companies from randomly discriminating against certain types of traffic over their networks, without reclassifying broadband as a Title II service. The FCC’s proposal also would give broadband providers some latitude to manage their networks by charging more for priority services.

The FCC set a deadline of Sept. 15 for public comments on its proposal. The vast majority of the record-breaking 3.7 million comments filed by the deadline—including at least 4,000 comments that referred specifically to schools—said the agency’s plan doesn’t go far enough to protect a fair and open internet.

(Next page: What school stakeholders had to say about the FCC’s proposal)

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