The startups -- CodeCombat, General Assembly, Codeacademy, and Open Curriculum -- warn that they might not be able to offer the same kinds of interactive educational services as at present, if the FCC allows Internet service providers to charge content companies for speedier delivery.
“Due to its bandwidth-heavy nature, CodeCombat requires a truly open Internet to provide a seamless and enjoyable educational experience to all,” CodeCombat says in its FCC filing. CodeCombat teaches coding skills via an online game.
“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.”
The FCC voted in May to seek feedback on a proposal that would allow ISPs to forge “commercially reasonable” paid prioritization deals with content companies. Those kinds of deals would allow companies like Netflix to pay to guarantee that their material is streamed to users quickly.
That proposal has sparked criticism from a broad array of groups, including digital rights advocates, startups and investors. Many opponents say that pay-for-play deals will disadvantage small companies that can't afford to purchase fast-lane treatment.
General Assembly, which teaches skills like Web development and coding, adds in its comments that an Internet fast-lane could make it harder for its students to find jobs.
“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.”
Open Curriculum, meanwhile, says that negotiating with ISPs for speedy delivery is impractical. “We neither have a lawyer on staff nor do we contract any legal help,” the company writes. “We want to spend our time and resources transforming education... Asking us to negotiate for 'commercially reasonable' deals in light of our larger competitors being willing to pay a premium to keep us out of the market is rigging the market so we (and other entrants) lose.”
A federal appellate court recently invalidated the FCC's prior neutrality regulations, which banned paid prioritization arrangements between wireline providers and content companies. The FCC is now attempting to craft new rules that will hold up in court.
But net neutrality advocates say that the FCC can't protect neutrality principles unless it first reclassifies broadband as a “Title II” telecommunications service, subject to the same kinds of common carrier rules that require telephone companies to put through all calls.
The online education companies that just filed comments with the FCC are urging the agency to pursue that type of reclassification. “We need an open Internet rule that prohibits blocking, discrimination, and access fees -- on both fixed and mobile connections -- which requires reclassification under Title II of the Communications Act,” Codeacademy writes. “We urge the FCC to do the right thing for the millions of Americans learning how to code online, the businesses they work for or will work for, as well as the next generation of American entrepreneurs, employers, and employees.”