How will the FCC’s recent ruling on net neutrality affect colleges and universities?

net-neutralityThe internet is abuzz with reaction to the Federal Communication Commission’s proposal this past Thursday to change net neutrality rules and create a “fast lane” for the internet (at extra cost). Free-internet advocates, internet providers, politicians, and online companies are all weighing in on the controversial ruling.

But Jeff Livingston, senior vice president of education policy at McGraw-Hill Education, says there are some voices that may need to be louder: those in education.

Livingston talked to eCampus News on Wednesday about how the ruling — which would allow (or, depending on who you’re talking to, force) companies and websites to pay for a faster internet — could affect colleges and universities.

eCampus News: What is net neutrality?

Jeff Livingston: Net neutrality is the now-old notion that all data traveling over the public internet is equal and that the providers of internet access should not, and could not, prioritize sets of data over other kinds data, such as that some services and internet-based offerings have far better performance than others. After the Supreme Court called into question the ability of the FCC to enforce such a rule on networks that private companies paid for and built, the new issue is how and under what circumstances and via which set of rules will internet providers be allowed to give preferential treatment to some data over others on the public internet.

How does the FCC’s ruling address that?

That’s really the FCC starting a conversation about how they’re beginning to think about this, but it has frankly for some of us, especially for us interested primarily in the educational use of the internet, created more questions than answers.

(Next page: Why colleges and universities should be concerned about the net neutrality ruling)

Speedier internet costing companies more could obviously result in users paying more, but why do you think colleges and universities should be particularly concerned about the ruling?

If you think about the typical offerings that a global education company like McGraw-Hill Education is offering today, with each passing month, our offerings are less print and more interactive, digital, and personalized. What used to be a one-way conversation is now, because of the nature of the technology and the algorithms we use, a full conversation with the learner. What we offer is adaptive to what the learner needs.

That process requires bandwidth. What we are most interested in with net neutrality and this conversation is in making certain those educational uses that are essential to a really important public purpose are not de-prioritized in favor of bigger and better entertainment solutions.

How I usually put it is that there is no bigger fan of House of Cards than I am, but even Frank Underwood would understand that education is a more important use of the internet than public entertainment.

It’s really about what we are going to privilege and what we are going to put in second place. College students are probably outsized users of entertainment resources, and certainly educational resources, I think its precisely on colleges campuses the issue will show up if there is an issue.

And will there be an issue?

Many of those making these decisions fully believe in the technologies that are coming to improve student outcomes, and it would shock me if they ever intended to prioritize entertainment over education, but what this conversation has brought up is that there doesn’t seem to be any explicit wording actually saying educational users, and for that matter health care users, are prioritized.

You keep saying this ruling is really the start of a conversation. Are educators involved enough in this discussion?

Not really, not yet, but that’s because they know like I do that many of the people making these decisions are career-long supporters of educational uses of the internet, so they have trusted that this will turn out the way they expect it to.

Now if the final rulings do come out and there is not an explicit prioritization of education, I believe you will definitely  hear a lot more from educational institutions than we’ve heard this far. Frankly they fully expect it to be okay — but I just want to make sure.

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