It’s no great overstatement to say that the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to rollback net neutrality protections has shaken the education community’s faith in open and equitable internet access for all students.
Among the groups commenting on the issue, both ISTE and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) raised the possibility that digital education providers can pay to deliver their content more quickly, and wondered aloud if the move would deepen the digital divide. ISTE’s CEO Richard Culatta told NPR the end of net neutrality was a regressive move, harkening to the pre-internet days and putting schools “back to where we were before, where students are getting shortchanged based on the zip code they live in.”
The FCC’s impact on education isn’t limited to net neutrality, however. Rather, it’s centered in the popular E-Rate program, which has provided billions of dollars in broadband discounts and infrastructure upgrades to schools and libraries. Since it began in the 1990s, E-Rate has helped bring high-speed internet access to 97 percent of U.S. schools. In 2014, the program was modernized, raising the overall annual funding cap to nearly $4 billion.