Keeping the Internet Real

Amid all the talk of fake news, misinformation, and abuse of personal information, the ongoing battle to save net neutrality has been pushed to the background. The net neutrality rules, which passed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015, prevent broadband and wireless companies from blocking or slowing internet traffic. Surveys show that a majority of the public supports net neutrality and, as the internet becomes more crucial to the provision of fundamental public services like education, its neutrality is in the national, and international, interests.

The internet should be an open and accessible resource. Today, we access the internet through our phones, tablets, and computers, but the future of the web will be heavily intertwined with virtual and augmented reality. This future of mixed reality will deliver learning experiences and information in ways we are only just starting to envisage. Thankfully, we will have teachers to guide and direct students through the morass of data, but there is still the question of who maps the world and controls what is experienced. We cannot rely on a few powerful companies to be the gatekeepers of information and education. Even if they are well trusted, the potential for manipulating what is learned and what is considered fact is too great. Students are better off relying on the multiplicity of sources to aggregate information, but to do so, they must be taught how to qualify their sources and the information supplied.

As we are continuing to see with the Facebook manipulation saga, it is virtually impossible now to prevent false information from being presented as fact. Once such information is conveyed through virtual reality, the difficulty of qualifying it will be multiplied exponentially. All we can do is equip our students with the research skills and knowledge to enable them to make informed judgements about the information that will bombard them—make them “internet literate.”

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is being used to try to halt the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. The CRA gives Congress 60 legislative days to undo a regulation from a federal agency. Simple majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as the president’s signature, are needed to roll back the FCC’s vote.

Last month, the Senate surprisingly voted to undo the regulation and restore the principle of net neutrality. During a press conference following the vote, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York credited the victory to the grassroots advocacy that has led millions of people to call their senators and representatives asking them to support the CRA. Despite this momentum, a similar bill currently lacks the support needed to pass in the House of Representatives by the deadline of June 11. Even if it were to pass, it would also require the president’s approval, so its passage is unlikely.

Nevertheless, net neutrality may survive through state initiatives—there are more than two dozen states, including California and New York, considering legislation to reinstate the rules within their borders. Earlier this year, Washington became the first state to sign such legislation into law. Governors in several other states, including New Jersey and Montana, have signed executive orders requiring ISPs that do business with the state to adhere to net neutrality principles.

Historically, teachers have been the guardians of information. With the advent of artificial intelligence and multiple realities, that role is changing. Now, they must impart the skills needed by their students to assemble information, assess it, and determine its value for themselves.

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