The Internet could soon have a fast lane and a slow lane thanks to a new proposal from the Federal Communications Commission.
Under the proposed rule, Internet providers like Comcast would be able to give companies that are willing to pay for it a leg up by essentially delivering their content faster. That’s great if you’re a big corporation, but it’s a scary prospect if you’re a cash-strapped startup trying to become the next Netflix.
It’s also a cause for concern in the education world. Here are three things education experts worry could be impacted by the rule and what to keep an eye on during the public comment period, which is open until late July.
1. School broadband
The Obama administration has prioritized expanding high-speed Internet to classrooms across the country. But would this rule mean education services would have to pay to be in the fast lane or would they get a sort of free pass? And how do you decide who does and doesn’t deserve a pass?
As Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of education policy at McGraw-Hill Education, posed a scenario to Politico where schools might be competing with big business. "Let's say that in a year when most states are deploying their online assessments, Justin Bieber decides to get married and the wedding is livestreamed on the Internet,” he said. “Who wins the battle for broadband there?"
The FCC did not immediately return a request for comment and the answers remain unclear.
But the FCC has pledged to spend more money on the E-rate program, which lets schools and libraries buy broadband services at discounted rates. Some of that funding could potentially be used to let education services into the fast lanes, but critics have pointed out that the program is already struggling to get Internet into all of the country’s classrooms. It remains to be seen whether they’d be allowed into potential fast lanes, too.
2. Research universities
Institutions of higher learning are worried about the potential impact of the proposal both on research and on student learning.
"The implications for universities are profound in terms of restricting the ability to perform research, to share research, to collaborate, to provide our students with the best access to information and the best opportunities to learn," Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association and an assistant professor of practice at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Chronicle reports that dozens of professors and other academics are banding together to send letters to the FCC opposing the proposal.
Universities are increasingly turning to online courses and resources, but with their tight budgets, paying for fast-lane services could be cost prohibitive.
3. Would for-profit colleges benefit?
Community colleges, which have vocational programs that compete with those at for-profits, have long been concerned about the ability of for-profits to pay for better placement in search engine results.
Now, some student activists are worried that the FCC’s proposal could give for-profit institutions an even bigger edge by allowing them to devote significant amounts of money to paying for priority “fast lane” service.
Jim Hermes, associate vice president of government relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, said it’s still early in the debate and he’s not sure that even for-profits operate at a high enough level to pay for Internet priority.
But, he said, “community colleges are very involved in distance education, so we’re concerned about any possible structure that would unfavorably impact our institutions’ ability to deliver on that.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.