by Félix Pérez
The freedom of students, libraries and universities to access the internet for learning, research and exchanging information will be limited by a federal agency’s repeal of the net neutrality rule, argued a group of higher education organizations last week in support of a lawsuit challenging the repeal.
The Federal Communications Commission voted late last year to repeal the rule despite widespread public opposition. Net neutrality prohibits internet service providers from selectively speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites and apps. The rule is particularly significant for universities, libraries and public schools, which serve both as customers procuring internet access and as critical providers of internet access to students.
The FCC’s repeal, stated the amicus brief by the university groups, led by the American Council on Education, “imperils the internet’s continued operation as a reliable platform for research, learning, and information sharing. By eroding the internet’s openness and treating all content providers as though they are profit motivated commercial actors, the [FCC’s] Order will make it far more difficult for universities to educate their students and facilitate research and for libraries to provide digital content and no-fee public internet access.”
Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, regardless of whether it’s conducting research, posting pictures, exchanging information or streaming. It also means Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T or Verizon, can’t favor their own content over a competitor’s. Without net neutrality, ISPs could throttle, restrict and control the internet landscape.
Educators and other opponents of the FCC’s decision were heartened this May when the U.S. Senate voted to reinstate the net neutrality rule. The close vote against the FCC’s repeal was made possible by three Republicans who crossed party lines. Not among them was Sen. Dean Heller. Heller, in his letter to constituents explaining his vote, said the net neutrality rule “created an environment of uncertainty for broadband providers.”
Marc Egan, government relations director for the National Education Association, described what the loss of net neutrality means to students and education institutions:
From the potential chilling of first amendment free speech rights to inequitable limitations on access, the repeal of net neutrality raises several significant concerns for public education for our students, educators, schools, and higher education institutions. The internet serves as an open platform for all our educators and the students in their classrooms – no matter their geographic locale or socio-economic status – to exchange information and ideas, create content, engage in civic and intellectual discourse, conduct research, and enhance teaching and learning in our schools and communities across the country.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives decided against scheduling a vote on net neutrality. The issue now rests with the ultimate arbiters, voters. That’s no less the case in Nevada, where Heller, a first-term incumbent whose record on education has garnered low marks, faces net neutrality supporter Jacky Rosen.
Heller voted for the nomination of Betsy DeVos as education secretary despite the vocal opposition of many of his constituents. He voted for an amendment that provides tax advantages for high income taxpayers to finance tuition at private K-12 schools. He also supported the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which is estimated to cost Nevada $280 million in education funding over the next 10 years.
Rosen, on the other hand, elected to Congress in 2016, has earned the praise of educators and public education advocates for her record on public education, most notably for her vocal advocacy for improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and encouraging young girls to explore STEM careers.
Rosen is recommended by the Nevada State Education Association. She was recognized recently as one of Congress’s “Champions and Defenders of children” by First Focus Campaign for Children, a bipartisan children’s advocacy organization. And she earned an ‘A’ on NEA’s Legislative Report Card.