School stakeholders urge FCC to adopt net neutrality

“A pay-to-play internet worries me because new, innovative services that can’t afford expensive fees for better service will be less likely to succeed,” wrote Jim Anderson, director of technology for a K-12 school in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I need to know that there will not be barriers to entry for the new ideas and services that I hope our students will one day to bring to the marketplace,” Anderson wrote. “… Likewise, I am concerned that resources our students and teachers need to access will be priced out of our reach as an independent, non-affiliated school.”

Ed-tech companies such as Poll Everywhere and OpenCurriculum argued their services couldn’t exist without more stringent net neutrality rules that prevent broadband providers from creating multiple tiers of service.

“When I started the company two years ago, I had less than $500 in my bank account. … But I was in luck—the internet is such a powerfully democratizing force that my lack of any money did not stop me from building a company that has now had an international impact,” wrote Varun Arora, CEO of OpenCurriculum.

“Would I have been able to afford to pay Verizon, Comcast, or any other ISP for fast lanes to reach the thousands of customers back then? Absolutely not. There are and were far larger media houses in education, or education companies with media presences, who could have crushed our increasing popularity any day, given a preference or advantage on the only medium for us to reach and serve our customers—the internet.”

An overwhelming majority of comments from education stakeholders pushed for stronger net neutrality rules. One exception was a response co-written by John G. Flores, executive director of the United States Distance Learning Association, and Ed Luttrell, president of National Grange, an agricultural advocacy group.

“We believe that encouraging competition and restricting government intervention in the private telecommunications markets is the best way to expedite expansion of broadband networks to rural communities,” Flores and Luttrell wrote.

When the FCC proposed reclassifying broadband as a utility in 2010, “investors withdrew about 10 percent of broadband providers’ market capitalization, equaling about $18 billion,” they argued.

Whatever rules the agency adopts must protect the needs of students, wrote Doug Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

“SETDA calls upon the FCC to ensure that the learning needs of children and youth are not only protected in the forthcoming rulemaking, but privileged,” Levin wrote. “The educational needs of the nation’s children must not be marginalized for commercial interests, and the good work that has been undertaken in the last year to advance broadband for learning by the White House, the FCC, and U.S. Department of Education must be protected and extended.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says he hopes to enact new net neutrality rules by the end of the year.

eSchool News Special Projects Editor Dennis Pierce wrote this report, using additional reporting from Vera Bergengruen of the McClatchy Washington Bureau. © 2014, McClatchy Washington Bureau; distributed by MCT Information Services.

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