Why We Should Care about Net Neutrality
Amy L. McGinn, Ed.D. is a lecturer for the Loyola School of Education’s Educational Technology program. McGinn completed her doctorate in Instructional Technology at Towson University, and her research focuses on professional development for technology integration at the K-12 level, the diffusion of innovations, and technology integration.
With the historic vote to repeal Net Neutrality on December 14, 2017, McGinn felt inspired to write this informative piece to help us understand a few important takeaways:
- What is Net Neutrality?
- Why is it important?
- What can/should we do now that the US Government has repealed this practice?
Why We Should Care about Net Neutrality
The topic of net neutrality has been at the top of our social media newsfeeds for the past month as the FCC prepared to vote on the reversal of Obama-era policies that kept access to the internet open and equitable. On December 14, 2017, the policy of net neutrality was repealed with a 3-2 vote along party lines. While there are stakeholders who believe that the end of net neutrality will result in an online environment better suited for innovation, competition, and economic growth, there are troublesome implications for students and teachers in our country--from PK all the way through institutes of higher education. As former Secretary of Education John King stated, “one of the most important aspects of technology in education is its ability to level the field of opportunity for students”. By ending net neutrality we are taking a step backward in the long-fought battle to provide equitable educational opportunities for all students in our country.
As a community of educators at Loyola University Maryland School of Education who seek to ensure academic excellence for all learners, we should be concerned about what the repeal of net neutrality means for our own classrooms and the classrooms across our community.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that all data on the internet should be treated equally by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It ensures that all users have access to all legal content on an equal basis - without ISPs blocking or favoring content from certain sources or charging for "fast lanes" to their own content and slowing access to their competitors' content. It also prohibits ISPs from discriminating or charging differently based on the user, the method of communication, the website or application, or the type of device or equipment.
What are the benefits of net neutrality?
Net neutrality allows equitable access to content on the internet. In the world of education, this is one element of digital equity—the concept that all students should have access to technology, such as devices, software, and the internet, and trained educators to help them navigate these tools. Our country has an unfortunate history of inequitable education. Students’ educational opportunities were once limited by the resources that were found within the four walls of their schools. Technology changed all of this. The internet has benefitted teachers and students by providing access to high-quality information, resources, and expertise - no matter what tangible resources their schools and communities are able to provide
At the Loyola School of Education, we are also guided by Jesuit educational ideals, and we seek to bring awareness to unjust social, cultural, economic, and political choices. Net neutrality is a structure that provides just educational opportunities for the most vulnerable members of our community: our nation’s children, who do not have the means to create these equitable conditions for themselves.
Why should we be concerned about the repeal of net neutrality?
At first glance, the repeal of net neutrality might not seem like a big deal. Sure, some people might be willing to pay more for certain content or faster internet speeds. This is not an unfamiliar concept: you can pay a little extra for a movie ticket and get a comfortable, reclining seat with a footrest, and you can buy a “Fast Pass” at Disney World to skip the long lines. Why shouldn’t this same concept apply to the internet? Because access to high-quality internet-based resources should be available to all schools and all students - not just the schools or districts that can afford it. In the absence of net neutrality, digital equity for students becomes a greater challenge. As Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, stated in an NPR interview earlier this week, “we're back to where we were before, where students are getting shortchanged based on the zip code they live in.”
We should also consider the implications this has for students and educators outside of their school buildings. Even in an ideal scenario when digital equity exists within the classroom, access to technology and reliable high-speed internet outside of school is far from guaranteed. The end of net neutrality widens the digital divide, the gap that educators have worked so hard to narrow.
What should our next steps be?
As our country wades through the political, and potentially judicial, processes of approving and enacting these changes, we should continue to educate ourselves about net neutrality and what these changes will mean for our schools. Leaders in our schools and in our communities should prepare to make informed decisions in the best interests of students. Teachers should continue the hard and important work of educating our nation’s children using all available resources. At the Loyola School of Education, we should continue advocating for social justice and digital equity for all students, especially students who attend schools with inadequate resources.
Where can we learn more?
In addition to the National Education Technology Plan, there are many recent press releases, blogs, and articles about the FCC’s change to the net neutrality policy, particularly in the realm of education. Just a few are listed below. It’s not a comprehensive list, but offers a variety of perspectives and information on the topic of net neutrality and educational technology