A Trip to the FCC: Advocating for Net Neutrality

On March 2, we had the remarkable good fortune to meet with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the first African-American female commissioner ever, to discuss the FCC's notice of inquiry on media literacy and proposed rule making on net neutrality. Commissioner Clyburn has spent a lifetime in public service work in her home state of South Carolina. She is deeply committed to reducing the digital divide and increasing opportunities for minority ownership in media industries.See our video about the highlights of our experience in Washington that features Sherri Hope Culver and myself along with Kristen Riccard and Kellen Clemens, our student attorneys from the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic at American University's Washington College of Law.

The FCC is poised to make a real contribution to support the development of media education, by helping parents, educators and children and young people better understand the media environment in which they live. Some people may wonder about the connection between media literacy and net neutrality. For us, net neutrality is an essential prerequisite in order for media literacy education to thrive.

Empowering and Protecting Children and Youth. When the FCC issued its notice of inquiry on protecting and empowering children in an evolving media landscape, we noticed that their language tended to use the term media literacy in a confusing and blurry way. We think it's important to emphasize the difference between media management and media literacy.  Media literacy includes both the ability to critically analyze media and the ability to create media messages in many forms. Traditionally, media literacy educators have emphasized exploration of news, advertising, media ownership, and issues of representation in popular culture. Now educators are exploring how media literacy concepts and pedagogy apply to digital technologies and online social media. Sometimes the two concepts together are referred to as "digital and media literacy."  For children and young people, media literacy offers a form preparation and empowerment for life in contemporary society.

The term media management refers to parental monitoring and control of access to media and technology and to some types of media content in order to ensure that media use supports healthy child development. The goals of media management are to protect children against risk, counteract negative media effects, and promote a healthy lifestyle through restriction, limiting, or monitoring media

While valuable, we don't think that these approaches are as effective as media literacy. The FCC can play an important role in helping broadcasters, the cable industry and Internet service providers to increase the visibility of media and digital literacy to communities across the United States.

Preserving the Open Internet. We're aware that a free and open Internet is critical to the development of innovative learning methods used by educators, students and interactive media developers. An open Internet is indispensable to helping students develop the competencies they need to be effective in the 21st century.

There are two key issues in the FCC's proposed rulemaking: nondiscrimination and transparency. Educators, parents, children and youth rely on commercial service providers for access to all of these educational resources. Those of us who create and access online content are subject to the network management practices of service providers.

We think it's important for service providers to disclose their network management practices. Without regulation, a service provider could block, slow, or divert Internet content related to the educational process. We told the Commissioner about our experience this past summer at Powerful Voices for Kids, a media literacy and technology integration program. We experienced some challenges in hosting the program in an urban elementary school that, while it had "pipe to the door," did not have the robust level of wireless bandwidth we needed for students and teachers to be able to engage in meaningful media analysis and production activities using streaming video, Flip video cameras, wikis and simple game development tools.  This example demonstrates that "Internet access" does not necessarily mean access to the full content available online, and only through increased transparency will educators and students be able to work with service providers to receive the bandwidth they need for learning.

Commercial service providers control the flow and speed of content over their network. In managing their network, ISPs could "dial down" the service they provide to schools during the summer. Without transparency regulations, we might face a situation where our summer work in urban schools could be seriously compromised-- with Internet service as slow as molasses in wintertime. We wouldn't have a clue about the problem. If ISPs have to disclose their network management practices, then we can understand why we're experiencing slowed service. We can reach out to the company to address the problem. Under the best tenets of capitalism, transparency promotes effective communication between users and providers. It's simply good business.

If we are unable to discern how, and by whom, the flow of Internet content is controlled, we are limited in our work as educators. Media literacy educators can teach about the Internet if the principles of nondiscrimination and transparency continue to support the creation and flow of digital content.