The decision by the
The ruling struck a blow against the concept of "net neutrality," the idea that all content flowing through the online realm should be treated the same way by providers, regardless of its source.
The court ruled that the
While predicting the consequences of the ruling requires weighing a number of hypotheticals, consumer-rights organizations worry that it will give telecommunications companies much greater ability to charge content providers more to guarantee the faster delivery of data to consumers, leaving others, such as schools, with slower delivery.
Additionally, Internet service providers could conceivably block content from sites they regard as rivals, or broker deals with deep-pocketed companies or organizations to put their content in the fast lane.
Those arrangements, some suggest, will benefit wealthier, commercial providers of online materials, while other providers without money to buy their way into the market will suffer.
In the wake of the ruling, telecommunications companies have vowed to preserve consumers' access to a content-rich, open Internet.
The decision "will not change consumers' ability to access and use the Internet as they do now," said
But consumer advocates, and some school organizations, are skeptical. They predict that if the ruling holds up--it could be appealed or superseded by other actions--Internet providers will be tempted to channel content in ways that benefit them financially.
For schools, "at the end of the day, you're likely to be collateral damage," said
The court's decision was roundly criticized by supporters of unrestricted Internet access, and praised by industry groups, who cast the ruling as an important check on government regulation.
The case was brought by
For years, critics of net neutrality have laid out a number of arguments against it.
They maintain that net-neutrality policies stifle innovation by keeping providers from targeting specific online content for streamlined delivery, which could ultimately benefit consumers. They also say
Others argue that Internet providers should have the right not to transmit content they don't agree with. That case was made by a group of organizations backing
In its decision, issued
That decision, however, may not be the final word. The chairman of the
K-12 Librarians React
The court's ruling alarmed some in the education community, particularly school librarians, who in many districts are charged with finding and organizing online content and helping students and teachers become more sophisticated users of it.
Other organizations, particularly noncommercial ones that seek to provide objective content, could be relegated to the slow lane, making it more difficult for teachers and students to get information they want, argued Ms. Stripling, whose organization's membership includes K-12 librarians, as well as those from other fields.
"It will have a huge effect on K-12 in terms of reducing the equity and quality of access," Ms. Stripling said. "Information will be controlled by the provider."
Another risk, raised by
For instance, students searching for information about the classified documents released by the former contractor for the
Many schools set up filters to prevent students from viewing online content they deem salacious or otherwise objectionable, he said. But it's another thing for broadband companies to set policy as they "bow to the mass market,"
A number of telecommunications companies declined interview requests from Education Week. But
The company would like to explore options that "would enable us to offer consumers products and services that would enhance their experience," he said.
Independent of the net-neutrality debate, school districts' lack of fast, reliable Internet access has emerged as a major concern, particularly as demand for bandwidth has increased with the growth of mobile and other computing devices and the overall increase in online instruction and testing. The
One of the great unknowns following the ruling is its impact on academic content that consumes relatively large amounts of bandwidth, including educational videos provided by organizations such as the
If telecom companies make entertainment or related content a priority, leaving less broadband for education videos, applications , and other tools, it would be a setback for schools,
News of the court ruling reached
Ms. Buerkett, whose rural school serves a significant number of impoverished students, worries that the ruling will put her neediest students at a disadvantage. Many of them lack computers and Web access at home and rely on the school's connectivity to do online work. She's learned not to assume that the children she works with can finish online projects outside of school hours, even though many students are too embarrassed to tell her that directly.
Ms. Buerkett teaches a class on computer and information skills, encourages students to conduct research and share online content and ideas, and directs them to news, science, and other sites, in addition to helping teachers plan Web-based projects.
She worries that the court decision could impede access to sites her students favor the most.
"We've already got a digital divideľan economic divide between wealthier and poorer kids," she said. For students who might otherwise be "low on the totem pole, on the Internet, they're the same as everyone else. ... Protecting good technology access for my students is very important to me."
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