- The Federal Communications Commission announced plans this week to move forward with its rollback of Obama era net neutrality standards — under which all content online was to be treated equally by internet service providers (ISPs) — meaning that now these providers would be able to block or slow down certain sites at will, or even charge a fee for faster delivery of content, reports Inside Higher Ed.
- The move has education advocates worried it will be more difficult for students to access online educational resources (OERs). There are also concerns that ISPs will start charging institutions more for their websites and bandwidth intensive content — like video streams or cloud-based email — creating potentially massive costs for institutions.
- The transition comes at the same time many institutions are significantly shifting over to digital content — with the emphasis on online learning opportunities and resources — which means net neutrality could make it difficult for institutions with fewer funds to innovate, developing another type of digital divide between smaller and larger institutions that can afford ISP charges.
The FCC's proposed rollback of net neutrality regulations has the potential to completely dismantle higher education's new shift to more digital content, as the proposal would give complete power over to Internet Service Providers to block, slow down or charge clients for access to particular websites — all under the idea the protections are a form of government overreach, as made clear by Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for telecom company Verizon.
And though Pai said in a recent statement the move wouldn't hurt businesses reliant upon free and open internet services, as "the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them," education advocates warn that leaders likely ought to brace themselves to be charged exorbitant prices to keep their important websites, ed tech services, online classes and OERs available to students.
It would behoove higher ed leaders to continue speaking out against the net neutrality rollback, teaming up with other industry stakeholders who would be negatively impacted by the shift, and working with policymakers to make sure institutions do not have to take on a significant burden — particularly as reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is on the table, and includes provisions that would force institutions to use their own resources in order to make college more affordable, not to mention existing cutbacks from the government on public funding for education.
As costs rise throughout the industry it is absolutely critical that leaders start forming connections and relationships with their legislators to make it clear how exactly the policies could completely disrupt their businesses and perhaps even create a digital divide that could push out a number of smaller institutions — already struggling to stay afloat due to overall lower enrollment and government skepticism of higher education's worth.