Why every educator should care about net neutrality

In truth, around the world, and here at home, we have lost much of the moral high ground with the disclosures around the NSA activities on information gathering on the Network. The FCC position on Network Neutrality is not directly relevant to how we balance personal freedom and anonymity and, at the same time, the reasonable activities of the state to secure the life, liberty, and property of the broader public. The FCC position on Network Neutrality will not ameliorate the significant and long term negative impact of the unacceptable and most probably illegal activity of our own government. However, the debate and decisions on February 26th do provide an important counterpoint to the distortions that have been allowed to evolve, absent broader federal authority to regulate the network. The reassertion of a regulatory regime around Net Neutrality will require some checks and balances that should, over time, allow us to restore greater confidence in the belief that private rights and freedom to connect to the network for education is an unalienable human right.

4. Network provider. There is a schism in the education sector about whether the debate in Washington over network neutrality is of material and direct consequence to schools and libraries. The library community has been consistent in their support of net neutrality. There is a bit more ambiguity in the formal education sector. Because the education and research communities were early progenitors and adopters of the network, the sector was accorded certain historic special statuses. Education networks are nonprofit, as they serve nonprofit customers. Education, research, and library networks are eligible for federal grants, federal subsidies, and are also not burdened by much of the regulatory environment that is the reality of the regulated commercial and enterprise networks around the country. As Title II emerges as an inevitability, there are those in the education network community who see the coming regulatory environment as a burden–a challenge to their healthy operating margins–or even an existential threat to their very existence. Education network providers will continue to attempt to make the case that they have unique needs and special customers, and deserve continued special treatment.

As the FCC has now placed both fixed and mobile networks under the new regulatory Title II umbrella, it is not beyond the realm of the possible that specialized and dedicated networks, like those serving the education network market, are candidates for common regulation as are the carriers. The challenge to those in the traditional education network space is to strategically consider not what these networks have represented over the past 40 years, but what they need to be over the next 40 years: What are the true value-added services to support the needs of 21st century learners? We might be surprised to learn, and I expect we will see, new important service lines supplanting the traditional, and likely more regulated, networks across the country.

Educators need to remain vigilant and active to protect their rights and the rights and opportunities of their students to discover, uncover, ponder, and reflect on the full range of challenges facing them and the broader human condition. That is our privilege and responsibility as educators.

For more insight into the Net Neutrality and education debate, read here where I have attempted to provide a framework for making senses of the forthcoming decision.

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