The FCC and Education
The FCC and education have an interesting history together. Let's start with net neutrality.
Back in February of 2015, the FCC voted on the controversial topic of net neutrality. Net neutrality means that no matter what service provider you use, the Internet looks the same - it is neutral. Abolishing net neutrality meant that Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, etc. would be allowed to have tiered, differential pricing. Internet packages would be similar to cable television packages; the premium sites and channels would come at a higher subscription price. Voting on net neutrality became a heated political debate and yet, not many educators were discussing it. Net neutrality was upheld in a vote of 3 - 2 but can you imagine what the abolishment of net neutrality would have meant for students in America? Why did we not see more educational leaders getting involved in this historic vote since it is so crucial to education?
The FCC and education are at it again and this time it involves Lifeline. Established under the Reagan Administration, Lifeline was originally rooted in telephony. Lifeline provided a telephone line to low-income Americans so that they could reach 911 and other emergency services. On March 31, 2016, the FCC will vote to expand Lifeline to include broadband Internet service. A $9.25 monthly subsidy would pay the for the broadband subscription for low-income Americans.
FCC Commissioners Clyburn and Wheeler have written an article in favor of the Lifeline expansion. FCC Commissioner Pai has written an article against the Lifeline expansion. Like net neutrality, this vote is very political and has an obvious impact on education. We, as educators, need to make our voices heard, either for or against this change.
I am in favor of the Lifeline expansion because I see how it could be a significant starting point in closing the digital divide. I see how it could provide access to certain curriculum content that is only available online such as Discovery Education, Pearson, and McGraw-Hill ConnectEd. The opportunities being denied to those without Internet access continue to grow and this could be one way to support those in need. Bringing broadband into homes will come at an expense and it will not be the only solution to the problems within the digital divide. But it is a great first step toward the ultimate goal of digital equity.