Online Education Companies Fear FCC’s Two-Tiered Internet

Four major online education start-ups are up in arms over a proposed Internet fast lane.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new Net Neutrality rules earlier this year, which would allow for a two-tiered Internet, referred to as “paid-prioritization”.  This system would create one form of Internet that costs less with a slower speed (a slow lane), and one that costs more that is faster (fast lane).

The start-ups, which include General Assembly, Codecademy, CodeCombat, and OpenCurriculum, claim the fast lane will “…impede [American's] access to an affordable education and to job skills for the 21st century economy.”  The companies argue the new rules will favor bigger universities with larger budgets.  Some fear the rules will cause the companies to go out of business, according to Sarah Buhr for TechCrunch.

“If adopted as a rule, the FCC’s proposal may result in CodeCombat ending up in a ‘slow lane’ and would therefore pose an existential threat to our business by threatening the seamless and enjoyable experience that allows students to see the magic of programming and computational thinking.”

In a letter to the FCC, the companies outlined four ways the new rules would impede their growth.  Pay-to-play deals will place the companies at a disadvantage, as they will not be able to afford the high-speed Internet option.  Having slow-lane Internet will cause users to lose interest in their product. In the end, fewer educational options will cause there to be less STEM-educated candidates in the workplace, writes Wendy Davis for The Daily Online Examiner.

“The FCC’s proposed rules would make the types of companies that hire our graduates more difficult to found and to grow and these jobs would evaporate,” the company writes. “We are frightened by a future in which large, well-established players have yet another advantage over entrepreneurial endeavors.

The problem would also reach college campuses and their students who live off-campus and pay for their own Internet service.  In an article for USA Today, Alex Spiess discusses how cloud-based services could suffer if those companies do not pay for the higher-speed Internet service.

According to Pat Bradley for WAMC Radio, US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has joined with US Representative Doris Matsui (D-California) in creation of the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014, in an effort to ban the FCC’s two-tier system.  Leahy believes an open Internet is imperative for small businesses as well as the public.

“I don’t want to see an Internet that’s divided into the haves and the have-nots. I don’t want to see an Internet with those that who can afford to pay can muffle the voices of those who cannot.  In an online world that’s split into fast lanes and slow lanes where pay-to-play deals dictate who can reach consumers, that runs contrary to every single principal that I felt the Internet was based on.”