- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced plans to enact a rule that would change the way it oversees the Internet from a Title I “information service” to a Title II “telecommunications service.”

While this may sound like language familiar only to lawyers and lobbyists, it means that the FCC wants to apply the regulations from the 1930s telephone system to today’s Internet.

If the FCC is successful, private companies - from the large Internet backbone providers to software developers to people writing “apps” for smart phones - will have to abide by a potential avalanche of rules and regulations promulgated by the government rather than allowing the marketplace to pick winners and losers. Applications that are crucial - especially in the areas of education and health - may be stopped short of further development and deployment if the FCC puts its desire to have total control of the Internet ahead of the public good.

Right now, the FCC should not be centered on regulating the Internet with outdated laws. Instead, the FCC should be focused on how to get broadband into all communities and available for all students and workers as quickly as possible. The best way to facilitate the rebound of the economy is to improve education and prepare the next generation for jobs in a high-tech market. Today’s jobs are quickly requiring more and more education, and students will need access to online learning.

The ability of Americans to use a high-speed Internet connection is crucial to improving learning from children to adults who may need additional training or retraining, especially in this era of stubbornly high unemployment.

In the United States, virtual education is growing at 30 percent annually in kindergarten-through-12th-grade schools, with an estimated 1.5 million students in online courses last year. According to “Disrupting Class,” by Clayton Christensen, Michael Horn and Curtis Johnson (McGraw-Hill, 2008), “It is estimated that by 2019, 50 percent of courses will be delivered online.” Internet access is key to this explosion of online learning. The Sloan Consortium estimates that one in four college students takes an online course. More than a third of work-force training is delivered through e-learning.

If the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a Title II entity, students across the country will be put at a serious disadvantage. Online learning is one of the most promising and cost-effective solutions to quality online K-12 education, and we cannot afford to jeopardize the technological advancements that are key to improving education and ensuring students are college-ready and career-ready.

Today, the United States is No. 26 internationally in broadband adoption. If we are to become a leader in primary and secondary education, the FCC must not regulate specialized broadband technologies in the same manner as the telephone or telegraph. We must embrace technological advances rather than accepting policy setbacks for our country. We must push next-generation learning enabled by broadband for our kids.

Susan Patrick is president and chief executive officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a nonprofit association.

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