Why Do Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte Want to Reduce Internet Access for Montana Students?

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While most of us have been focusing on the likely impact of monopolistic Internet providers slowing down our viewing of Peaky Blinders or charging us more for the privilege of watching programs outside of their preferred networks, education researchers have been examining the impact of net neutrality’s repeal and have found that students are likely to face consequences, too.

Writing in the Baltimore Sun, Amy McGinn, a lecturer at the Loyola School of Education, notes that the repeal of net neutrality threatens the very idea that students who are from disadvantaged areas can achieve some level of educational equity through access to the Internet:

In the world of education, net neutrality is one element of digital equity — the concept that all students should have access to technology, such as devices, software and the Internet, and trained educators to help them navigate these tools. Our country has an unfortunate history of inequitable education. Students’ educational opportunities were once limited by the resources that were found within the four walls of their schools. Technology changed all of this. The Internet has benefited teachers and students by providing access to high-quality information, resources and expertise — no matter what tangible resources their schools and communities are able to provide.

Richard Culatta, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, explains how schools are likely to suffer as a result of the repeal:

“The types of digital resources that schools rely on can take a back seat to commercial internet traffic that is more profitable. It’s as simple as that,” Culatta said. “Schools, faculty members, students rely on having access to a whole range of educational resources that essentially have the potential to be treated as second-class citizens.”

Among those most nervous about the change are those in charge of rural schools.

But the National Rural Education Association didn’t take an official stance on net neutrality, its executive director, Allen Pratt, said, in part because the issue wasn’t on its radar and because it remains unclear how the change will affect remote schools. But rural schools often lack adequate internet services because of high infrastructure costs, and any price hikes, Pratt said, could make the situation worse. The unknown, he said, gives him pause.

In their support for the repeal of net neutrality, Representative Gianforte and Senator Daines would have Montanans believe that ISPs, which have very little competition even in our larger communities, will simply not maximize profit at the expense of students and other consumers in underserved areas, despite the well-documented fact that rural areas already suffer a significant digital divide. I think anyone who has had to deal with one of the large ISPs in the state would have a hard time believing that those provider, now emboldened by the FCC’s action, will suddenly do a better job providing access for consumers in the more isolated parts of the state.

And given that Mr. Daines and Mr. Gianforte lack the courage to meet their constituents face-to-face and hide behind call screeners for sham tele-townhalls, shouldn’t they at least make sure that the people of Montana have access to communicate with then? And that students have access to the Internet that will give them the opportunity to help their communities thrive?

Apparently, the going rate for Steve Daines to sell out against the interest of his constituents is only $38,700. Given that Democratic leaders are vowing a vote on reinstating net neutrality, education leaders (especially those in rural communities) should let him know that our students deserve more consideration than his donors.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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