Barring a legislative miracle, K-12 districts can expect the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality repeal to go into effect on June 11 — and public school officials are worried.
This change will result in a complete restructuring of internet traffic, which could have major implications for education. But what sort of changes should K-12 IT directors expect to see, and what can they do to ease this transition for public schools?
Immediate and long-term effects of the repeal
It’s unlikely the effects of the repeal will be evident on June 11. In a recent press briefing about net neutrality, Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), addressed that point after describing his concerns about how the new rules will affect schools.
“I’m not saying the sky will fall tomorrow,” Krueger said, “but [school districts] do not have any mechanism, there is no real regulatory process, to deal with the problems that arise.”
The speed at which changes are felt depends on how each internet service provider (ISP) decides to monetize. While mainstream critics tend to focus on how the repeal will affect consumers’ ability to stream content and shop online, there has been a lot of discussion about how the repeal can give ISPs the power to make money at the expense of public education. These methods could include:
- Higher internet costs: Internet users, including educational organizations, may face increased costs for internet service. The ability to use specific services, websites or platforms may be locked behind paywalls, leading to higher overall technology costs.
- Internet “fast lanes”: ISPs can give specific content providers preferential treatment, based on how much they are willing to pay; those who are unable to pay these fees may have reduced connection speeds. In K-12 classrooms, where dozens of students may attempt to stream video content at any given time, this throttling could make certain edtech platforms unviable for everyday use.
The repeal’s impact on educational equity
In short, these changes endanger educational equity across the nation. “School districts are concerned about the threat of higher prices and reduced choices,” Krueger said during the briefing. “We’re also concerned that many of the most innovative digital content providers are small companies. They’re the ones we think are most likely to be throttled.” Both of these consequences will negatively impact educational objectives for thousands of school districts across the nation, further widening the tech gap.
Both school districts in low-income areas and edtech startups may face serious consequences. Underprivileged school districts already struggle to provide students with adequate technological access, and new ISP monetization efforts will only hinder these efforts. Meanwhile, the variety of viable edtech platforms will be diminished as “fast lanes” limit competition in the sector. Services that may see the brunt of this change will be those that utilize gamification and videos, as these are both data-intensive forms of content.
Of course, none of these eventualities are inevitable. Telecommunications companies thus far have repeatedly stated that customer experience would not suffer as a result of the repeal, but there is no legal barrier preventing them from pursuing these tactics.
Fortunately, as part of the ruling, ISPs will be forced to disclose any policy changes. School district officials will need to be alert to such changes so they can react accordingly.
What you can do to prepare for these changes
IT directors have a responsibility to track how their specific ISP’s monetization efforts may affect technology use in the classroom. Here are some places to start:
- Reassess your district’s budget and determine if any desired services or edtech platforms will incur additional fees. Paid content may receive preferential treatment over content that is freely available, so teachers may need to adjust lesson plans to compensate for these changes.
- Be vigilant when tracking new tech complaints and concerns. If teachers begin reporting that specific platforms have begun suffering connectivity issues, consider discontinuing use or finding a “fast lane” alternative.
The changes going into effect in June may undermine the quality of education on a national level, or they may have no notable effect — it all depends on the aims of your ISP. Nevertheless, addressing potential changes promptly can minimize the impact of the repeal on your district.
Bob Hand writes regularly from Boise, Idaho,
on the way that teachers use technology in the classroom. His studies as well as his experiences at high schools across the
state have given him greater insight into current edtech issues.