Why higher education should care about Net Neutrality

Broadband for education expert gives four reasons why the FCC’s decision about Internet service is a human rights issue.

net-neutrality-rightsOn February 26th the world, as we know it, will either come to an end or we will have the second coming of the messiah.

Why? Because later this week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, rather than an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act—a decision which will have a significant impact on education.

With a handful of exceptions, the policy wonks and industry pundits have taken binary positions on the regulation of the Internet, but there is more at stake than the Washington politics and beltway posturing: mainly, the issue of education as a basic human right and how the regulation of the Internet may affect those rights.

Here are at least four reasons—from historical and future-looking perspectives—why educators, students, and school administrators should take interest in the commission’s deliberations and decisions.

1. First principles – The original cyberneticists living and writing in the 1940s (like Wiener, Von Neumann, Turing, Deutsch, Mead and others) all believed that education and distributed and decentralized networks were fundamental to preserving the future of the human race. Having all borne witness to the horrific and catastrophic ills of WW II, their fundamental belief system was that the only way to avoid future destabilization associated with hierarchical and centralized models of economic, social, and political organization was to design networks and reinforce them with more universally accessible education systems. Theories of systemic interdependence and resilience followed, as did the instantiation of those same principles in the early protocols and work of the DARPANet, ARPANet, and research and education networks that pre-dated the commercialization of the Internet in 1993. Many of the cyberneticists, as well as early pioneers of the Internet like Baran, Englebart, Cerf and Kahn, understood the internal logic and tendencies of systems to centralize and agglomerate. The only way to maintain resilient networks that could resist the tendency to centralization was to embed those networks with first principles.

As the current chairman of the FCC has once reasserted, one of those first principles has been that suppliers of access to the network should not be authorized to mediate (privilege or discriminate) on the basis of creating competitive advantage with those providing content or services on those networks. Over time those advantages necessarily trigger individual and organizational behavior that will lead to the centralizing of economic, social, political, and educational privilege, the very dynamic that the architects of the network attempted to mitigate. Most educators will readily understand and embrace this first principle. It is at the heart the democratizing principle that we associate with both our calling as educators and the great hope of the Internet to make access to education both discoverable and accessible without barriers imposed by network providers so as to create competitive advantage.

(Next page: Going to the edge of what’s possible in education)

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