By Justin Goss
As the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality phases in, concerns that Internet service providers (ISPs) could speed up or slow down traffic from certain websites or prioritize certain content loom large. Changes to Internet service, if any, will probably be slow and gradual; however, the repeal has potentially important implications for the digital divide in and outside of California’s schools.
K‒12 schools rely increasingly on online content and management systems to deliver instruction (e.g., blended learning), administer standardized tests (e.g., Smarter Balanced assessments), and manage educational data (e.g., cloud computing). As online learning becomes ubiquitous, access to high-speed Internet is no longer optional—it’s a necessity. Most schools receive discounted Internet services through the federal E-rate program, but if providers decide to introduce tiered pricing based on content, students and educators could lose access to quality education programs. Tiered pricing could also exacerbate the digital divide between urban and rural districts. PPIC research shows that close to 70% of rural districts lack sufficient bandwidth for digital learning, compared to 18% of urban districts. If this gap persists or widens, students in rural areas may be left behind in the digital race.