The Federal Communications Commission’s vote to repeal net neutrality regulations gives broadband providers the ability to block websites and charge for certain content and faster service. Additionally, high-speed Internet delivery will no longer be federally regulated as a utility like telephone service. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission, which has little experience in telecommunications policy, will oversee the industry.
“The collaborative spirit of partnerships in higher education and public research are the foundation of the Internet we all rely on today,” said Micah Roark, Director of Information Technology for OmniUpdate. “As a result, the open protocols and standards provide a public communication medium now thriving on private infrastructure, the owners of which are now empowered to constrain and exploit. In lieu of net neutrality, we will undoubtedly need the collaborative spirit and power of higher education to create new infrastructure technologies.”
The changes will take months, maybe years, to go into effect, as lengthy litigation is expected by groups opposed to the repeal. When the new rules are in place, colleges and universities could be impacted in several ways:
- Service could be slower for some students. A fee-based structure for Internet speed could mean that students who can’t pay for a faster service will be relegated to the slow lane on the Internet. Companies also have the option to split Internet service into packages similar to the fee-for-service packages in Portugal, which does not have net neutrality regulations.
- Student and professor innovations may not reach market. Net neutrality favors innovators, developers, and small companies that create applications or sites on the web. Reduced speed times, additional fees, and competing against the advantages enjoyed by large corporations that will control content make it harder to get these new innovations in front of users and consumers. “From a creative and innovative standpoint, the repeal of net neutrality could stifle the freedom of information sharing and access,” said Dr. Corie M. Martin, Director, Web Services & Digital Marketing, Western Kentucky University Public Affairs. “This may widely impact the humanities and even stifle research and fundraising among all disciplines.”
- Tuition rates could increase. Academia has capitalized on the benefits of online learning, and it is essential that students receive content like videos at appropriate Internet speeds. If these speeds come at a price with the new regulations, the additional costs incurred will likely be passed on as part of tuition fees.
- Students who rely on campus Wi-Fi may be most affected. Reduced speed and potential lack of access to certain sites needed for classes and study eliminates the level playing ground, putting these students at an academic disadvantage.
- News and information may be censored. Broadband providers will be able to control what users see online by giving certain sites priority, slowing down sites of their choosing, and blocking sites altogether.
Martin says the implications of repealing net neutrality could be especially significant for non-profit public institutions that do not have resources to expand software budgets. “We in higher ed should absolutely be concerned, as it is our responsibility and challenge to educate the next generation of the global workforce,” Martin said. “Without free and open access to obtain and share information, students’ ability to learn and grow could be stifled.”
Join our mailing list to stay informed on the ongoing net neutrality debate and its impact on higher education.