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The Changing Internet: Why you should talk Net Neutrality with your students

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By Megan Fromm, CJE

Between deadlines, snow days and standardized testing, we all know there isn’t much time for “extra.” Those extra lessons you wish you had time to teach, those extra teachable moments you wish you had time to organize. But this week, carve out 20 extra minutes to sit with your students and talk about what is arguably the most major change to the Internet since its very invention.

What change is that, you ask? In a phrase: The slow death of Net Neutrality.

Chances are good that your students know little about this concept, but a court decision last week has put the wheels in motion to re-imagine the Internet as they know it today.

In short, net neutrality requires that Internet service providers, or ISPs, treat all content equally. The FCC recommendations regarding net neutrality (which were deemed inapplicable last week) were designed to keep ISPs from charging more for certain kinds of content or for faster access. Essentially, the concept of net neutrality is what keeps our Internet from looking like subscription cable television.

But the 2010 FCC order for net neutrality was not a law, and in this most recent case heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Verizon successfully argued that the FCC has no authority to issue such orders.

This decision has the potential for grave consequences for freedom of speech and our rights to access information. Our students, as journalists, media consumers, and engaged citizens, must be aware of how drastically different the Internet could become under this new ruling.

So, here are a few readings to get the discussion started:

1. A basic introduction to net neutrality

2. A video explanation of net neutrality

3. A user-generated chart on what the end of net neutrality might look like

4. A great article that explains the court’s decision

5. The actual court ruling

Then, ask your students to consider how these changes might affect them:

  • What if some people can’t afford to pay for news, or social media, or entertainment?
  • Why might it be important to preserve net neutrality?
  • What happens if your ISP (say, Comcast) decides to block any and all information about its competitors?
  • How could all of this affect student media?
  • What’s next?

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