The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of net neutrality. The 3-2 vote, made along party lines, places the Internet under the FCC's authority as a public utility and will prohibit Internet service providers from charging different prices for faster speeds.
While it's still likely that ISPs will file suit against the FCC over the ruling, what do the new regulations ultimately mean for schools?
In an initial statement, John Harrington, CEO of Funds For Learning, a consulting firm that assists with the commission's E-Rate funding program, said, "Funds For Learning is a longtime advocate of policies that promote broadband Internet access in our nation’s communities – specifically via the federal E-rate funding program – and we believe that today’s action by the FCC to approve net neutrality will further this lofty and important goal."
The E-Rate program provides telecommunications and Internet discounts to schools and libraries via universal telecommunications service fees. Harrington went on to praise FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's commitment to cost-effective broadband services.
We reached out for more details on the specific benefits to schools.
First off, Harrington said the new regulations would shore up the E-rate program via a broader base of revenue for the universal service fund, which is currently set at $3.9 billion and, as mentioned above, funds the E-Rate program. The increasing number of customers abandoning traditional telephone service meant fewer people were paying into the fund, resulting in higher contribution rates from the FCC. "This new regulation will reduce the burden placed on traditional telephone users," said Harrington. "Not only will this keep the E-rate program solvent, I believe it may also reduce the telecomm surcharge burden placed on lower-income families."
Furthermore, the equal footing provided by the regulations will ensure that sites don't have to pay more for equal web access. "For example, an educational web site, perhaps provided by a not-for-profit agency, is not going to have the budget to compete against the Netflix's of the world," said Harrington.
Finally, Harrington noted that other services, like the mobile data classroom tablets or Chromebooks might use, may potentially be returned to the list of eligible services.
Funds For Learning expects no specific downsides for the E-rate program from the new regulations.
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