How Could the End of Net Neutrality Affect Online Education?
On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal regulations put in place to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against different kinds of traffic on the internet, including content, delivery, and pricing. The decision represents the end of net neutrality. It also represents a number of other issues, with implications that extend past the practical and into the philosophical. We sat down with some of Bridgepoint Education’s leaders in innovation and technology to hear their perspective on net neutrality. Michael Kolodziej, EdD, AVP of Learning Design and Innovation, and Andy Shean, Chief Academic Learning Officer, discuss our post-net neutrality world, the role of the internet in online learning, and what the changes could mean for access to digital information.
Building the Internet & Net Neutrality
Michael Kolodziej explains that the internet is like a road in many ways, a road that has become increasingly more important for education, work, and life. The actual roads of the internet highway were built in pieces by companies across the nation who laid cables, launched satellites, and connected us in ways we had never been connected before. “It could be said that we have an interconnected system of ‘company-owned toll roads’ like our national highways,” says Andy Shean, “which have served us well and provided a catalyst for tremendous growth and opportunity.”
Developed to guarantee openness and awareness for consumers, the FCC had formerly ensured that through net neutrality rules, the internet highway would remain open to all. Essentially, these rules required that we pay for usage of this system in the form of an all-access pass to anywhere the road goes, and in our choice of car. Payment for internet service operated as a form of tax to maintain the roads. Michael Kolodziej explains, “As a caveat, there are currently self-selected speed limits on our usage in that internet service providers (ISPs) offered tiered services, with pricing differences for different maximum speeds. Ultimately, you could go where you want and get what you want.”
Internet Access in a Post-Net Neutrality World
Now with the FCC’s vote to overturn net neutrality, we still are operating on toll roads, but our toll road providers (ISPs like Comcast, TimeWarner, Spectrum, and others) don’t have to offer us an all-access pass anymore, and are now free to charge how they’d like. While what they may do is speculation at this point, it is now possible for them to charge different prices and set variable speed limits, depending on where you are going and how you get there.
For example, a Saturday afternoon binge-watching Netflix (a streaming service which requires more bandwidth and data than just checking the weather online) would equate to driving a semi-truck across the country instead of taking your compact car to the grocery store. Because of this difference, ISPs may decide that you should pay extra to access that service.
If you’re attending school online, accessing the internet to read your books, post discussions, watch videos, submit papers, and other requirements may be slower or cost more unless the school provides A-level bandwidth.
What Are the Implications of a Post-Net Neutrality World?
Because the rules of the internet road have changed, companies and users are asking themselves what role it plays in their lives. “We are all forced to consider what the internet is,” explains Andy Shean. “Is it a utility, like gas and electricity? If so, who should be able to control that utility? The government, individual providers? We’re suddenly facing this huge, philosophical issue and determining how it will affect business and our daily lives as we know them.”
Michael Kolodziej elaborates, “At Ashford University and Bridgepoint Education, we have always been conscious of bandwidth as we serve our students, including military students and those in rural areas, and now we have a new concern that the very fibers that connect us to our students may be restricted.”
The fight to overturn the FCC’s ruling is still being fought in the courts and in Congress. Though it is impossible to say how the current ruling of ending net neutrality will affect internet usage and online education, Ashford University is committed to serving students and providing a seamless learning experience. If you become negatively impacted by the changes in net neutrality, we encourage you to speak to your Academic Advisor. You can continue to stay updated with any future announcements from Ashford on your student portal.
Written by Kelsey Bober, Content Manager for Bridgepoint Education, Michael Kolodziej, and Andy Shean