This week, P2PU and the School of Open (along with thousands of other non-profits, start-ups, and even porn sites) submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States on the matter of net neutrality. We thought you might like to see a bit of what we told them:
Current proposals would mean a “shaped” web, with a fast lane for those who can afford to pay for the premium service and use a lot of bandwidth, and a slow lane, for those who do not. A move like this would have serious implications for the neutrality of the open web – the concept that the internet is a level playing field and internet service providers can not discriminate against any individual, organisation or company.
If the fast lane / slow lane had been the reality of the web back 2009, when P2PU launched, we would have failed at conception – since our first contributors were volunteers, access to the resources they were using to develop their courses would have been limited. P2PU would not have been able to secure the small amount of seed funding that allowed volunteers to meet face-to-face once a year, (meetings that resulted in a five-year growth spurt and resulted in the School of Open).
Money for such a small, risky venture would not have made sense to any funder, no matter how small the amount, since success of the initiative depended on fast Internet access to the resources P2PU would be built upon.
The proposals aren’t just bad news for small non-profits like P2PU. They’re also bad news for open education online in general. Initiatives, organizations, institutions and even government-related websites that host open educational resources are at risk of being relegated to the “slow lane” of the Internet, virtually obviating their usefulness as freely accessible resources. An projects built around the existence of free and open resources online will be at a disadvantage from the get-go, since the resources they are building their business model around will not be as easy to access. This will discourage innovation in education, innovations that have sprung exemplary and impactful new models such as the Khan Academy, MOOCs, and enabled universities and schools to supplement tight budgets with OER.
Finally, the current proposal offers web users the right to sue broadband providers who they feel are discriminating against them under the “comemrcial reasonableness clause” In reality though, volunteers (who still make up the bulk of P2PU and the School of Open’s communities) can’t afford lawyers to fight discrimination. The right to sue is not a right if it can only be exercised through the hiring and expense of lawyers. We are educators, learners, and researchers — not lawyers. We do not have the legal or monetary capacity, or even mental bandwidth, to police every action by broadband giants.
What we need instead is a neutral Internet that does not privilege one category of web citizens over another, or one category of organizations over another, based on how much they can pay for access. Education was declared a universal right by UNESCO in 1948; all education online, whether nonprofit or for profit, should be accessible at equal speeds for everyone.
Huge thanks go to Jane Park and Lila Bailey for their help and expertise on preparing these comments – you two are gems.