On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the rules designed to regulate internet providers. The decision to end “Net Neutrality,” the concept of open internet access for all, has not been without controversy. For schools and other organizations heavily dependent upon the federal E-rate program for technology funding, the repeal of Net Neutrality could be particularly impactful.
What the Repeal of Net Neutrality Means, In Practice
The changes that come from the decision to end Net Neutrality will be gradual. Until December, the internet was regulated the same way as other public utilities like electricity or phone service. The rules that are no longer in effect prohibited internet providers from blocking lawful websites or apps from consumers, from discretionarily slowing the transmission of data (i.e. throttling), and from prioritizing content and customers who pay the most for their services.
Consumers are concerned that without these regulations in place, internet providers would be free to create an internet hierarchy in which companies and websites with more money to spend would be more likely to be seen by consumers. Conversely, there is concern that higher-paying customers would gain access to more bandwidth and faster speeds than lower paying customers, creating a monetarily stratified internet.
The Effect of Net Neutrality on E-rate
The removal of these protections could have profound and lasting impacts on the millions of recipients of federal E-rate grants. Without Net Neutrality protections in place, internet providers would theoretically have the option to drastically change the way E-rate customers access the internet. They could slow down speeds depending on a school’s discounted rate. They could also choose to prioritize content from advertisers or block content from non-advertisers, directly influencing the kind of information available to students online. There is considerable concern that without the freedom of information provided through a traditional open internet, innovative online educational resources could be stifled.
Schools that report higher levels of eligibility for free or reduced lunch are also more likely to be E-rate recipients. Schools can use E-rate grants for a wide variety of technical upgrades, such as the implementation of a comprehensive network security solution, or towards the subsidization of internet service itself. Until now, service discounts have ranged anywhere from 20-90% off regular rates. In this way, schools that already serve poverty-stricken areas could be the hardest hit by the ripple effects of the Net Neutrality decision. It’s too soon to tell exactly how the changes in Net Neutrality will shake out for schools. Many states are considering implementing their own statewide regulations for internet providers, although these legal battles are still in their infancy.
Smoothwall takes our commitment to an open, accessible internet seriously. We’ve spent years perfecting our Content Aware filtering solution to ensure students can always access useful educational information within the complex online landscape.
Reach out to Smoothwall today to learn more about how our solutions can help your school move forward.
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