Update on Net Neutrality and the Importance of Saving the Internet

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Technology Review has a nicely done update on the Net Neutrality issue, Net Neutrality: Far from a Done Deal,  by Wade Roush. According to the article,

the fight isn’t over. It’s still possible that certain types of tiered Internet access will emerge in the near future. That’s partly due to political and business realities: no bill is assured of passage in the still fractious 110th Congress, and AT&T’s concessions contain loopholes that allow the company to move forward with premium services such as U-Verse, which is all about extending fiber-optic fast lanes to customers’ homes. But the situation is also a consequence of the march of technology. New bandwidth-intensive applications such as YouTube-style video downloads and peer-to-peer file sharing are clogging the network so quickly, researchers say, that service providers may be forced to start charging more to carry certain types of data.

Obviously, ISPs have to be compensated for transmitting Internet data. HOWEVER, allowing ISPs to treat data from different sources in different ways is discriminatory, both against the data source, as well as its consumers. As many people have said before, the beauty of the Internet is that it’s neutral, and based on developments in technology, business practices, and politics, we need some kind of federal legislation to keep it that way. For current efforts in that realm, see http://www.savetheinternet.com/.

Why is net neutrality, “the principle that Internet operators should handle all the data they transport the same way, without special “fast lanes” open only to those who can afford them” (quoted from Net Neutrality: Far from a Done Deal) so important? There are several reasons:

  • By now the Internet is a primary source of information for many people, whether it be by way of desktop, laptop, or wireless mobile device. As discussed by Judy Breck in 109 ideas for virtual learning, the Internet is the place of a new knowledge ecology, a place where knowledge is accessed, aggregated, networked, and created. She advocates for open content, andthat education practice today does little more than toy with the emerging innovation of digital connectivity—when, in fact, a new knowledge ecology it causes will have to become central to global learning for education as an institution to remain relevant into the future. 

You may believe that education does not belong in the open chaos of the emerging Internet. But thinking that misses a wonderful new cognitive order of learning that emerges from the chaos of connected knowledge. Education should be right in there with the other major elements in the ubiquitous mix of the Web world. The openness of the content within the Internet is a change for learning that is as complete as the invention of phonetic symbols was for language. But that is getting ahead of our story.

Net neutrality is not just a geek thing; it’s a generation thing.  If we want to build a world where youth have a voice online, we have to keep the net neutral.  Hopefully, youth mean more to us than their consumer power.

Twice as many Americans used the internet as their primary source of news about the 2006 campaign compared with the most recent mid-term election in 2002.

Some 15% of all American adults say the internet was the place where they got most of their campaign news during the election, up from 7% in the mid-term election of 2002.

A post-election survey shows that the 2006 race also produced a notable class of online political activists. Some 23% of those who used the internet for political purposes – the people we call campaign internet users – actually created or forwarded online original political commentary or politically-related videos.

See also Micah Sifrey’s post on the Personal Democracy Forum about the report.  While the Internet is important for the political process in the US, it is even more important for continents like Africa and South America, where wireless mobile phones are increasingly used for political activism. See for example this article about mobile phone use and its impact in Kenya, or this piece on the use of SMS in Venezuela to get voters to the polls.

 Obviously, an open and neutral Internet in itself is not enough. The younger generations who are using this evermore participatory medium as their main source for information access, aggregation, creation, and sharing need to learn more than just technical skills to use it to its fullest potential. We all know that youngsters usually have no problems learning how to use a new digital tool. The key is to provide them with opportunities to learn what to use these tools for, other than entertainment.

According to the New Media Literacies Project, we need to train kids with skills for participatory culture. The NML’s essay discusses the current media landscape as innovative, transformative, convergent, multimodal, global, networked, mobile, appropriative, participatory, collaborative, diverse, domesticated, generational, and unequal. While kids are already participating by way of affiliation (think social networking sites), collaborative problem solving (gaming), and media sharing.

However, the NML Project essay sees this participation as being accompanied by several challenges:

Challenge 1: The Participation Gap — the unequal distribution of these opportunities to participate and thus the unequal distribution of the skills and knowledge which emerge from these practices.

Challenge 2: Ethics — The expansion of the public roles played by children and youth in this new participatory culture raises new responsibilities that they are often unprepared to accept and that are badly understood by the adults surrounding them. Each of these forms of participation represent both opportunities and risks.

Challenge 3: The Transparency Problem — While kids are getting better at using media as resources for doing other things (creative expression, research, social life, etc.), they often show limited ability to examine the media themselves, question the ways that they structure their experiences or shape their content, and the contexts in which they operate.

Challenge 4: Evaluation — Students, parents and teachers remain uncertain about how to
evaluate work produced using these new media and how it might connect with earlier forms of expression.

To overcome these challenges, the NML Project suggest a set of preliminary and a set of emerging skills that kids should acquire, and that this should happen through  multiple levels of intervention:

1. School based — designed to integrated into existing school disciplines
2. after-school programs — designed to expand creative opportunities for kids in a way which also emphasizes the cultural context and ethical consequences of those practices.
3. informal learning — collaboration with creative industries to insure that ideas about media literacy feed back into popular culture.
4. teacher training — designed to provide teachers with models for classroom practices which foster the new media literacies.
5. parents training — designed to give parents the knowledge and skills they need to foster media literacy in preschool children and to support the informal learning of their school aged offspring. 

What I really like about this approach is that the interventions go way beyond the space and time in which formal education takes place, and involves the education of parents! For another discussion of the New Media Literacy Project essay, see Christopher Sessum’s post Skills for 21st Century Learners: Preparing ourselves for participatory culture, in which he concludes that

In the end, The Project NML essay serves as a lesson in school reform that focuses on how educators should be thinking about literacy education, communication competencies, and schoolings impact on our collective citizenry — not simply academic achievement. Getting educators to adopt such a stance will take longer than most of us are comfortable with, but alas, it comes with the territory.

Image Credit: http://www.savetheinternet.com/

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One response to “Update on Net Neutrality and the Importance of Saving the Internet

  1. Pingback: Update on Net Neutrality: The Fight Is Far from Over « Ubiquitous Thoughts

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