FCC’s plan to reclassify internet has big K-12 impact

FCC commissioner seeks to protect the open internet, opening new broadband access opportunities for K-12

fcc-internetFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing clear, sustainable, enforceable rules to preserve and protect the open Internet as a place for innovation and free expression. According to an FCC Fact Sheet the common-sense proposal would replace, strengthen, and supplement FCC rules struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more than one year ago.

“An open Internet allows consumers to access the legal content and applications that they choose online, without interference from their broadband network provider,” the fact sheet states. “It fosters innovation and competition by ensuring that new products and services developed by entrepreneurs aren’t blocked or throttled by Internet service providers putting their own profits above the public interest. An open Internet allows free expression to blossom without fear of an Internet provider acting as a gatekeeper. And it gives innovators predictable rules of the road to deliver new products and services online.”

Evan Marwell, CEO of San Francisco-based EducationSuperHighway, says Chairman Wheeler’s proposals to protect the open internet include one key provision that will be very helpful to any school district or library that is working to bring fiber to their buildings. That is, by “ensuring fair access to poles and conduits under section 224,” the proposed rules will make it much simpler and more cost effective for school districts to obtain the rights of way they will need for fiber construction.

“Lack of access to poles and conduits can significantly delay and increase the cost of new fiber construction,” Marwell continues, “to a point that makes self-provisioning or buying services from a new service provider that needs to build its network to the school impractical.”

Next page: The big impacts for K-12


As someone who closely monitors the FCC, John Harrington, CEO at Funds For Learning, says he’s not surprised by Chairman Wheeler’s actions. “Under [his] leadership, we have seen the FCC regulations flex to accommodate new options (and more competition) to better address the broadband connectivity needs present in today’s schools and libraries,” Harrington explains. The reform of the E-rate program, for example, was focused almost exclusively on enhancing broadband connectivity for students and library patrons.

“In fact,” Harrington adds, “the most recent changes to the E-rate program, released last December, specifically addressed the need to extend broadband connections to every school and library in America.”

Harrington says promoting broadband connectivity has been a consistent theme of Wheeler’s tenure at the FCC, and notes that affordable access to high-speed broadband aligns with the mission of the FCC’s Universal Service program. “Mr. Wheeler’s proposed internet regulations would further the cause of connectivity in communities,” Harrington says, “and would likely add additional long-term stability to the E-rate program while encouraging the broadband connections that schools and libraries so desperately need.”

In a recent Wired article, Wheeler wrote that he was proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open Internet protections. “Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” Wheeler stated. “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.”

“My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want,” Wheeler continued, “and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

According to the FCC, Wheeler’s proposal provides the strongest legal foundation for the open Internet rules by relying on multiple sources of authority: Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In doing so, the proposal provides the broad legal certainty required for rules guaranteeing an open Internet, while refraining (or “forbearing”) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service. Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers.

The FCC chairman’s comprehensive proposal will be voted on  at the commission’s February 26 open meeting.

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.

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