Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality

HELEN R. ADAMS AND CHRISTOPHER HARRIS

“Without Net Neutrality,

curriculum decisions may be

influenced by ISPs.”

Net Neutrality is the concept that Inter-net service providers (ISP) must treat all Internet content equally “regardless of its kind, source, or destination” (Merriam-Web- ster, n.d.). Under Net Neutrality, ISPs were not allowed to speed up, slow down, favor, or block Internet traffi c. Net Neutrality protections were created in 2015 by the Federal Communications

Commission (FCC), an independent government agency that oversees and en-

forces communications laws and regulations for state, national, and international

communications via radio, television, cable, wire, and satellite (FCC, n.d). Under

its 2015 “Open Internet Order,” the FCC changed the classifi cation of ISPs from

“information services” to “telecommunication services.” With that change, In-

ternet service providers became “common carriers,” public utilities like phone

companies that cannot charge different rates for carrying the same content. The

“Open Internet Order” prevented the creation of “slow lanes” and “fast lanes”

for Internet traffi c. This reclassifi cation occurred because, under a lawsuit brought

by Verizon in 2014, a federal court struck down the ability of the FCC to impose

Net Neutrality aspects of antiblocking and antislowing on information services

(McArdle, 2015).

revokinG net neutrality

Never a fan of Net Neutrality, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, designated chair of the

commission by President Trump in January 2017, signaled early in his term his

intent to dismantle Net Neutrality protections. In May 2017, the FCC issued “Re-

storing Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.” Its purpose was to

“restore the Internet to a light-touch

regulatory framework” and to change

broadband Internet service back to an

“information service” (FCC, 2017).

The news that the FCC intended to

reverse Net Neutrality created huge re-

actions by advocates who wanted Inter-

net activity to continue with all infor-

mation, content, websites, and services

treated equally. The FCC received 21.8

million comments, most protesting the

rule change, but a controversy over

millions of duplicate messages sent by

spambots caused Ajit Pai to announce

that the FCC would consider only

those that “introduced new facts into

the record or made serious legal argu-

ments” (Romano, 2017). In addition to

comments, there were protests against

the impending FCC action. On July

12, 2017, the American Library Asso-

ciation (ALA) and nearly two hundred

other organizations participated in

“Day of Action,” an online protest to

save Net Neutrality (ALA, 2017).

On December 14, 2017, FCC com-

missioners revoked Network Neutral-

ity rules by a 3–2 vote. As a result, ISPs

can now legally offer “tiered service”

favoring some websites, services, and

applications with faster connections,

blocking others, or charging some con-

Net Neutrality Why It Matters to School Librarians

Feature ARTICLE

tent providers greater fees to connect

to their customers (Fung, 2017). This

is the “fast lane” and “slow lane” con-

cept. Under the new FCC order, ISPs

are required to reveal their service pro-

visions to customers, but transparency

does not mean equitable access. Trans-

parency is only feasible when there is

a viable marketplace where customers

such as schools can select service from

a company that better refl ects their

needs. A deeper issue that consumers

face, however, is the nebulous nature

of the Internet. Even if a consumer’s

direct ISP is not fi ltering traffi c, other

steps in the connection between the

consumer and the content being ac-

cessed may cause a problem.

Regardless of the vote, this issue is

not over. Political discourse, legal ac-

tion, and active advocacy will continue.

The FCC’s actions are expected to trig-

ger legal challenges. On the day of the

vote, the New York State Offi ce of the

Attorney General (2017) announced

that it will spearhead a multistate law-

suit to fi ght the elimination of Net

Neutrality rules.

ALA and other advocates will con-

tinue to work toward restoration of

Net Neutrality. ALA president Jim

Neal asserts,

Teachers, librarians and students

in K–12 schools have benefi ted enor-

mously from effective and equitable

access to Internet resources, appli-

cations, educational materials, and

communities of learning. The dis-

mantling of Net Neutrality places

this educational innovation at risk,

as the speed and quality of access is

eroded, and all ideas and perspec-

tives are not treated equally. (per-

sonal communication, December

28, 2017)

potential consequences For schools

Although there is considerable specu-

lation, the full impact of the end of

Net Neutrality for schools and school

libraries is unknown at this time and

may remain so for many months. Rob-

ert Bocher, senior fellow for ALA’s Of-

fi ce for Information Technology Policy,

notes that broadband providers and

ISPs can now legally make decisions

regarding the content that is carried

on their networks related to its speed

and cost (personal communication,

December 31, 2017). This changes the

role of both a school and library’s ISPs

and all of the interconnected networks

from being neutral carriers of content

to potentially being gatekeepers of

content. This change could be direct—

slowing down or even blocking content

based on provider or topic—or more

indirect—with information content

providers charging schools and librar-

ies to recoup costs imposed by their

ISP or other network providers.

Marijke Visser, associate director

for the Offi ce for Information Tech-

nology Policy at the ALA Washington

offi ce, provided some insight into the

effect for schools. A major concern is

whether educational content will be

slowed down so ISPs can give preferen-

tial treatment in a “fast lane” to content

that will give them greater fi nancial re-

turn or in which they have ownership.

Visser expressed special concern for

rural areas, explaining,

If provider X starts throttling

[slowing] content for a school, then

the school would have no other op-

tion but to move its business to an-

other ISP that would not throttle

school-based content (or content it

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A P R I L 2 0 1 8 9

dismantling Net Neutrality rules will

affect schools. He posed the question,

“Will school districts be stuck with the

bill for higher transport costs levied

on digital content providers?” (CoSN,

2017). He was concerned that, under

the new FCC order, requiring ISPs to

disclose their pricing and practices

does nothing to protect schools from

higher carriage fees charged by ISPs to

licensed educational content providers,

such as reference databases, and then

passed along to schools (personal com-

munication, December 16, 2017). In

other words, even if the school’s direct

service provider is completely transpar-

ent about not charging the school, any

other provider in the chain between the

school and the content provider could

be imposing fees that result in a higher

cost to the school.

Scott Floyd, chief technology officer

for White Oak ISD in Texas, articulates

the uncertainty for districts like his,

The ISPs will have the power to

decide who they allow full access

and who they do not. Sadly, it will

all revolve around who is paying for

the extra usage and who isn’t. Does

that mean Google tools like Hangout

or Microsoft’s Skype will be slowed?

Only time will tell, but there will be

no rules in place protecting those

tools and keeping the bandwidth

constant for everyone. In the end,

the dollar makes the decision. (per-

sonal communication, December 4,

2017)

possible solutions

Solutions for schools facing a future

without Net Neutrality are not plen-

tiful and favor those with strength in

numbers of districts, large and small,

banding together into groups to cre-

ate leverage. Krueger sees regional or

statewide educational networking con-

sortia as one potential solution:

Those schools and libraries that

are from larger organizations and/

or can aggregate their purchasing

power through cooperative purchas-

ing are likely to be best protected in

this new world. State education net-

works, RENs, and state contracts

are all likely to be able to better

protect rural schools and libraries.

(personal communication, Decem-

ber 16, 2017)

He recommends that those with

market choices work toward contracts

that “prohibit blocking, throttling, and

paid prioritization—in other words,

embedding Net Neutrality in their

contracts.”

In rural regions, municipal broad-

band may be a strong possibility, but

the same companies that fought hard

to kill Net Neutrality are also trying to

block this potential solution. Currently

there are battles in many state legisla-

tures to prevent the creation of mu-

nicipal broadband providers that offer

competition to established ISPs, and

more than 20 states ban or limit mu-

nicipal broadband networks (Chang,

2016). School districts, especially

smaller or rural districts, may need to

collaborate on contracts or work with

local municipalities or public libraries

to gain sufficient bargaining power to

dictate favorable terms.

net neutrality and intellectual Freedom

With Net Neutrality eliminated, In-

ternet users in K–12 schools face an

10 T E A C H E R L I B R A R I A N 4 5 : 4

wanted to use like some YouTube

video on chemical compounds or a

video from National Geographic on

bird migration). (personal commu-

nication, December 7, 2017)

Without Net Neutrality, curricu-

lum decisions may be influenced by

ISPs. What if ISP X signs a deal with

McGraw-Hill to make it the exclu-

sive digital textbook partner? As a re-

sult, access to other digital textbooks

could be terminated or slowed down.

Or perhaps the local ISP makes deci-

sions about which streaming video

services will work. These are curricu-

lum decisions that should be made by

the school, but because access comes

through the ISP, it can intrude upon

local decision-making.

An easy solution would be for the

school to change to an ISP that would

agree not to filter traffic. Unfortu-

nately, in many rural areas, there are

often few choices for ISPs, creating a

lack of competition. An FCC report

from June 2017 found that about 75%

of U.S. census block regions have zero

choice in terms of high speed Internet/

broadband access (Brodkin, 2017).

The FCC has claimed that market

competition will provide a check on

potential ISP abuse. “Given the ex-

tent of competition in Internet access

supply,” the FCC’s (2017) new order

states, “the protections regulating ISPs

are not necessary” (p. 144). Despite

the frequent claims of competition

throughout the document, the statis-

tics included by the FCC show that

competition is not as widespread as it

would like to claim.

Cost is also a factor. Consortium on

School Networking (CoSN) CEO Keith

Krueger alluded to costs when he asked

FCC commissioners to consider how

abridgement of their intellectual free-

dom. Under Net Neutrality, ISPs were

required to treat all Internet traffic

equitably, reflecting the principal of

nondiscrimination. Because the 2015

“Internet Open Order” was revoked

and replaced by the ironically titled

“Internet Freedom Order,” ISPs and

broadband providers can now differen-

tiate among Internet content, and their

“tiered access” systems can prioritize

digital speech for fast delivery, delay, or

blocking. As a result, the full spectrum

of diverse speech (including educa-

tional content) is curtailed for anyone

seeking to express or receive ideas.

One of the major purposes of

schools is to educate students for their

future roles as citizens or residents of

a democratic society. Students learn

information-literacy skills including

discerning between fact and opinion.

Schools provide Internet access for stu-

dents’ instruction, information seeking,

and learning. When there are barriers

to the provision of Internet service

such as blocking legal content or dra-

matically increasing the cost of access,

it affects students’ ability to access on-

line content and learn what is needed,

putting U.S. democracy at risk.

Neal saw the threat to reverse Net

Neutrality and asked the ALA Intel-

lectual Freedom Committee (IFC) to

write a position statement consider-

ing the “intellectual freedom impli-

cations of the efforts to set aside Net

Neutrality” (personal communication,

July 13, 2017). Between July 2017 and

February 2018, an IFC working group

created the statement laying out the

arguments for the ways Net Neutral-

ity is an intellectual freedom issue and

requesting comment from the library

community. In February 2018, ALA

Council approved “Network Neutral-

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Junior nonFiction ity: An Intellectual Freedom Issue” as

an official statement of the ALA. The

full statement is available on the ALA

website (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/

intfreedom/netneutrality).

What can school librarians do?

The ALA and partner organizations

will continue to apply political pres-

sure until Net Neutrality is restored.

School librarians can play an active

role, and it begins with being well in-

formed on current political, legal, and

advocacy efforts. There are two key

information sources, and anyone may

use them. Register to receive the ALA

Washington Office’s District Dispatch,

a weekly e-newsletter with information

on library and education federal legis-

lation and updates on Net Neutrality

(http://www.districtdispatch.org/).

Subscribe to the Intellectual Freedom

News, a free weekly compilation of ar-

ticles on a range of intellectual freedom

issues including Net Neutrality on the

OIF Blog web page (http://www.oif.

ala.org/oif/) by entering your email

address. The next step is becoming

an active advocate for Net Neutrality.

Educate colleagues, students, admin-

istrators, school board members, and

parents about Net Neutrality and what

its loss means to schools and communi-

ties. Mobilize local support to respond

when needed and to contact senators

and representatives relating personal

stories of the realities of no Network

Neutrality rules.

the net in 2018

Net Neutrality is a difficult concept to

explain with esoteric policy language

from the FCC and other federal agen-

A P R I L 2 0 1 8 11

12 T E A C H E R L I B R A R I A N 4 5 : 4

cies. To make things more challenging,

the Internet didn’t appear to change on

December 14 when the FCC ended Net

Neutrality. The ramifications discussed

in this article outline the possibilities

experts are concerned may happen now

that protections are gone. The problem

will be identifying what, if anything, is

being done by ISPs behind the scenes.

This determination will likely require

the collection of data over time to pro-

vide evidence of slowdowns for some

content or in some locations. Indi-

viduals can help by participating in

independent speed tests like those con-

ducted by Measurement Lab at http://

measurementlab.net.

reFerences

American Library Association (ALA).

(2017). July 12 day of action to save

Net Neutrality. Retrieved from http://

www.ala.org/advocacy/july-12-day-

action-save-net-neutrality/

Brodkin, J. (2017). 50 million US

homes have only one 25Mbps Internet

provider or none at all. Retrieved from

https://arstechnica.com/information-

technology/2017/06/50-million-us-

homes-have-only-one-25mbps-inter-

net-provider-or-none-at-all/

Chang, R. (2016). Laws prohibit or re-

strict municipal broadband networks in

20-plus states. Retrieved from https://

thejournal.com/articles/2016/09/08/

laws-prohibit-or-restrict-local-gov-

ernments-from-building-broadband-

networks.aspx/

Consortium on School Networking

(CoSN). (2017). CoSN: Aggressive

Net Neutrality plan raises questions for

schools. Retrieved from http://cosn.

org/about/news/cosn-aggressive-net-

neutrality-plan-raises-troubling-ques-

tions-schools/

Federal Communications Commis-

sion (FCC). (n.d.). About the FCC.

Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/

about/overview/

Federal Communications Commis-

sion (FCC). (2017). Restoring Internet

freedom notice of proposed rulemaking.

Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/

document/restoring-internet-free-

dom-notice-proposed-rulemaking/

Fung, B. (2017). The FCC just voted

to repeal its Net Neutrality rules, in a

sweeping act of deregulation. Retrieved

from https://www.washingtonpost.

com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/12/14/

the-fcc-is-expected-to-repeal-its-

net-neutrality-rules-today-in-a-

sweeping-act-of-deregulation/?utm_

term=.7c140e19d5a6/

McArdle, J. (2015). Internet providers

are now common carriers: What does that

mean for you? Retrieved from https://

potomacinst i tuteceo.wordpress.

com/2015/04/03/internet-providers-

are-now-common-carriers-what-

does-that-mean-for-you/

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.) Net Neutral-

ity. Retrieved from https://www.mer-

riam-webster.com/dictionary/net%20

neutrality/.

New York State Office of the Attorney

General. (2017). Press release: A. G.

Schneiderman: I will sue to stop the ille-

gal rollback of Net Neutrality. Retrieved

from https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/

ag-schneiderman-i-will-sue-stop-ille-

gal-rollback-net-neutrality/

Romano, A. (2017). The FCC asked

for Net Neutrality opinions, then re-

jected most of them. Retrieved from

ht tps : / /www.vox.com/techno l –

ogy/2017/12/1/16715274/fcc-net-neu-

trality-spambots-comments-pew/.

Helen R. Adams, MLS, is an online

senior lecturer for Antioch University–

Seattle in the areas of intellectual free-

dom, privacy, ethics, and copyright.

A Wisconsin resident, she formerly

worked as a school librarian and served

as president of the American Associa-

tion of School Librarians (AASL). She

is chair of the American Library As-

sociation Intellectual Freedom Com-

mittee and a member of the AASL

Knowledge Quest Advisory Board. She

authored Protecting Intellectual Free-

dom and Privacy in Your School Library

(2013) and co-contributed a chapter on

intellectual freedom to the second edi-

tion of The Many Faces of School Li-

brary Leadership (2017).

Christopher Harris is the director

of the School Library System for the

Genesee Valley Educational Partner-

ship, serving 22 small, rural school

districts in western New York. He also

serves as a fellow for Youth and Tech-

nology Policy Issues with the American

Library Association Office for Infor-

mation Technology Policy. He is the au-

thor of the Teaching Through Games

series (2015) and the activities for the

Spotlight on Kids Can Code interactive

ebooks (2016). He can be reached at

chris@playplaylearn.com.

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