The Fall of Net Neutrality May Impact Higher Education

The end of Net Neutrality could be a concerning development for students whose education depends on fast, affordable internet connectivity.

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to roll back a series of network (“net”) neutrality protections introduced by the Obama administration in 2015. Net Neutrality is a highly charged issue, but regardless of one’s political beliefs, what’s clear is that the FCC vote will play a significant role in the future of internet connectivity across the United States.

One of the arenas in which the fall of Net Neutrality is likely to have a particularly strong impact is higher education. As “digital natives,” both Millennials and Generation Z-ers rely heavily on technology to facilitate their learning experiences, from kindergarten all the way through college. Some 75% of today’s college students believe that internet-enabled technology has had a “positive” or “significantly positive” effect on their academic success.

In fact, this growing demand amongst young people for connectivity (54% of students bring two connected devices to campus, while another 22% bring three or four) has placed a great deal of pressure on campus networks. According to one recent study, “Colleges and universities are amongst the most demanding wireless environments today.”

The worry among Net Neutrality defenders is that the FCC repeal will exacerbate the connectivity issues colleges and universities already face and, as a result, compromise the education that students receive.

What Is Net Neutrality?

The Obama-era FCC protections hardwired the principle of “neutrality” into the relationship between large internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and CenturyLink and the average internet user. One of internet users’ long-held assumptions is that ISPs will operate as neutral conveyors of information. A user makes a request and their ISP fulfills that request — no questions asked.

Through recent technological advancements, however, ISPs have gained the ability to analyze, and if they choose to, prioritize each and every user request in real time. In theory, this means that ISPs could slow down or even block traffic to certain sites and/or charge a premium for neutral, impediment-free service: an internet “fast lane,” so to speak.

As the ACLU points out, “[ISPs] might want to interfere with speech that makes them look bad, block applications that compete with their own, degrade or block access to union sites during a labor conflict, or increase their profit by forcing developers to pay more to avoid having their data blocked or slowed down.”

Net Neutrality in the Campus Context

For students who depend on fast, affordable internet to do research, access course materials, submit assignments, and even take tests, the end of Net Neutrality is a concerning development.

“The public interest missions of…institutions of higher education are inextricably intertwined with the Internet,” reads a letter of complaint submitted to the FCC by a group of nine higher education groups. “The democratic nature of the Internet as a neutral platform for carrying information and research to the general public is strongly aligned with the interest missions of higher education.”

If ISPs start charging a premium for open internet access, colleges and universities are likely to pass this expense on to students. Such tuition hikes probably wouldn’t be too substantial, but given the excessive tuition inflation students have dealt with over the years, yet another increase in costs is the last thing that anyone wants.

Future-Proofing Campus Connectivity

Of course, while the incentives for bad behavior are undeniably present, there’s no guarantee that the fall of Net Neutrality will inspire ISPs to hold students’ open internet access hostage. What is certain, however, is that colleges and universities need to invest in more advanced, better-designed wireless networks in order to meet students’ increasingly demanding connectivity needs.

That’s why educational institutions of every shape and size should consider partnering with a campus networking expert like Turn-key Technologies (TTI). At TTI, we have over two decades of experience helping colleges and universities design, deploy, secure, and maintain the kind of powerful networks they need to remain competitive in today’s digitally-driven educational landscape. At the dawn of this new era of connectivity, it has never been more important to provide a strong digital foundation upon which students can build their futures.

By Tony Ridzyowski

April 4, 2018

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