On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote to roll back net neutrality rules. That means internet access providers would be able to block websites or charge more for faster internet speeds.
Colleges and universities depend on the internet to carry out their educational and public service missions, and these potential changes to net neutrality are concerning education leaders. Several higher education organizations, including the American Association of Community College (AACC) and the American Council on Education, sent comments to the FCC.
“Our organizations remain concerned that broadband Internet access providers that offer services to the general public (i.e., public broadband Internet access providers) face increasing financial incentives and growing opportunities to block, degrade or discriminate against certain content, services and applications,” the comments’ authors say.
“Higher education’s mission to serve and enrich society is tied to a truly open Internet that preserves those values,” they add.
The comments make a case for high-capacity broadband on campus, as many students make use of their college’s or university’s Wi-Fi for “learning or experimentation” – particularly those students who don’t have access to internet at home.
Repealing net neutrality also could have a negative affect for those students who take online courses from home. If internet providers start charging more for faster internet speeds, many students — particularly low-income students — could be left behind, according to Fred Lokken of the Instruction Technology Council, an AACC affiliate council.
The end of net neutrality will have “a significant and potentially irreparable impact on online education given that it would ultimately increase the cost of accessing the Internet dramatically and would impact under-represented populations and the poor the most,” Lokken said. “The U.S. has maintained one of the very best data rates in the world — but the end of net neutrality will eventually lead to measured service that is more expensive. That is the element that is most concerning for the online learning community.”
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