Net Neutrality and the Digital Divide

Before this week I had never hear of net neutrality, or at least not that I can remember. If I heard the term before I certainly didn’t question it or learn more about it when I did hear about it, so I’m guessing this is the first time I have heard about it. A few things stood out for me this week and each article gave me something to question and think about.

In terms of the New Digital Divide I found it quite saddening that digital media & technology is another place (in addition to so many others) where the poor are at a disadvantage. The article focusses on the security issues that face those who cannot afford to use android or Apple devices. When you cannot afford to use the devices that come with built in security you are at risk of fraud or identity theft. If you have no internet access at home you might have to rely on public wi-fi spaces to connect. Once again those spaces are not as secure as an at home network. Your privacy is at risk simply because you don’t have enough money. We know that there has been a push to use technology in the classroom and we are told that students need technology to learn and prepare the for the future. It is great that we are recognizing the rise in technology and need to grow and learn with it. A lot of classrooms and schools have iPads, laptop carts, wireless internet and smart boards. Our classrooms may be equipped (many are still unequipped) but are all of our students equipped when they leave the classroom? What happens to students who go home and don’t have a phone, tablet or computer to connect to the internet? What about students who have a phone but a limited data plan? It is clear that there is a large technology gap between the rich and poor but how can we solve this problem?

Photo Credit: Dirk Dallas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Dirk Dallas via Compfight cc

Unfortunately I don’t have an answer to that question but Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook had an idea to offer free internet to the developing world.  The project titled Internet.org has received backlash from some claiming that it will only make the divide worse. The idea is that the user will be able to access free sites and be prompted to pay to receive additional data gaining access to other sites. The problem is that many of these people won’t be able to afford to pay for the service. I decided to look into internet.org and see what I could find out about it. After looking at the site, I realized that it’s actually a pretty neat idea. They have created the Free Basics Platform where web developers can launch their free site with them. There are a few sites that have joined the Free Basics Platform to provide free access and one of them, Baby Centre, is one that I am familiar with. Another concern with the free access to internet.org was based on the security issues as users wouldn’t be connecting through a secure network, but it seems as though they have started to use secure networks through the use of HTTPS. This service is obviously not the same as having open access to the same things that the rich in the developed world have, but it is better than nothing. I question just how free the service actually is. Perhaps it is free for those who use it and there is not money involved for them, but I am sure there is money involved in terms of gains for the major companies involved but I could be wrong. Either way, it seems to be having an impact on students like Kenner.

Net neutrality ties in with our previous discussions about open internet. Net neutrality is the idea that all people should have the same access to the internet and be able to access all sites at the same speed. When net neutrality doesn’t exist there are internet highways that companies can purchase that would allow their users to stream their content faster than other sites. Companies would pay to use these highways leaving the small companies with less money to travel on the grid roads of the internet. Schools would be at a disadvantage because they can’t afford to travel and use the high speed highways of the internet. Students who can’t afford to pay for the highest tiered internet access would have limited access compared to those that can afford it which would once again widen the digital gap. 

Photo Credit: drcohn via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: drcohn via Compfight cc

I noticed that all of the articles I read were based out of the United States so I decided to look into where Canada sits on the whole net neutrality topic. In terms of net neutrality we are going half-throttle. There have been limited complaints made and issues have been quick to be resolved with most companies. Xplornet seemed to have the most complaints and also has throttling policies in place that will limit speeds depending on usage or time of day. I know that other companies have similar policies in place. Take for example Sasktel mobile phone service. My husband had a plan that was supposed to have unlimited data. However, it was far from unlimited data. At the time my husband was working out of town and didn’t have wireless where is was located so he often used data. He would watch Netflix which uses a lot of data. Well it didn’t take long before his phone basically slowed down enough that he couldn’t watch a video. He called Sasktel to ask what was going on and they told him that after you have used 10GB the speed of your data would slow down substantially.

It is interesting to read all about net neutrality and think that companies would compete and pay to have their information streamed on the super highways of the internet. It seems to boil down to the same two things that drive everything else in the world…money and power. I am happy that we have the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to monitor Internet providers to ensure they are providing equal treatment to content and users. I have found that in the evenings my wireless is much slower than in the day making it harder to get things done. I have always assumed that it’s because more people are at home accessing their network as well which weighs down on the network as a whole but maybe I’m wrong? Has anyone else experienced similar things?

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3 thoughts on “Net Neutrality and the Digital Divide

  1. Your raise good a good point about looking to the Canadian context. I found that the digital divide exists in Canada and across the world. Check my most recent post if you’re interested. When you mentioned throttling data, that got me thinking about our school divisions and the Ministry. I have heard that the Ministry and individual school divisions do this. Do you know if it is true? I know they block certain content that draws large amounts of bandwidth, but do they throttle to try to balance the system?

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    • I had no idea they do that Nathan! I hadn’t heard that before and question if they are even able to do that. I understand why they would want to, but I find it sad that our networks at the schools are so weak to begin with. But maybe they aren’t weak and they are just being controlled a little more than what we are used to at home? I would love to read any information you have or know of discussing this in regards to our schools.

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      • I do not know specifics, but have heard that the Ministry controls bandwidth and does throttle. Might be a good discussion for our class on Tuesday. I’m sure Katia and Alec could enlighten us.

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