Net Neutrality Reversal Costly for Higher Ed

On December 14th, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on its proposition to repeal current net neutrality rules in place. The basic principle of net neutrality prevents internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating (slowing/blocking) against internet access, websites, or applications based on content or services. On college and university campuses, the impending proposal has many concerned about its relation to educational access and increased tuition costs.

Colleges campuses are currently home to massive research and online programs that are essential to an institution’s academic and financial identity. According to a 2017 study performed by the Babson Survey Research Group, from 2012 to 2015 the number of students taking online courses grew by 11 percent. Developments in distance education have been made possible by relatively equal access to the internet. In March and July, higher education and library organizations representing hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide sent essays and letters to the FCC chairman Ajit Pai, urging him to uphold the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order. In a letter this March to Pai, Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education wrote:

Maintaining access to the information fast lane is essential to the academic and civic missions of our colleges and universities and to the important work done every day at those institutions by millions of students, researchers, faculty and staff. These net neutrality principles, now more than ever, are needed to ensure that the internet remains open, accessible and affordable to all.

Another result of repealing net neutrality is the introduction of ‘paid prioritization’. Paid prioritization is the notion of ISPs selling faster or prioritized internet services to entities that pay a higher fee, or degrading services to applications that compete with an ISPs’ own services. Higher education institutions that cannot afford to pay this fee will experience slower internet speeds, and the schools that do pay will most likely pass this fee onto its students in the form of a tuition increase. The senior vice president of government relations at the American Council on Education (ACE) Terry Hartle said, “Those costs can’t simply be swallowed by schools, so they will be passed on to students and their families without any additional benefit to them.”

In a letter delivered today, 28 Senators asked that the FCC delay the “monumental decision” to dismantle net neutrality saying, “By overturning the Commission’s current rules that preserve net neutrality and prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, throttling, or otherwise privileging lawful content, we fear that the Draft Order could harm our nation’s students and schools.” The letter also argues that removing net neutrality would lead to a “tiered and compartmentalized internet” that would limit students and schools who can’t afford it.

FCC’s Chairman Pai argues that abolishing net neutrality would lead to a freer market, with higher investments in the internet service provider (ISP) sector—in turn allowing ISPs to develop and grow beneficial services while promoting competition. Currently competition among ISPs is nearly non-existent in many U.S. locations. The FCC is set to vote on its proposal to remove net neutrality protections this Thursday, December 14th.


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