Policy Updates on FERPA and Net Neutrality

Two policy debates that could have a significant impact on education – updates on FERPA and data privacy & FCC proposals on Net Neutrality – both entered the next stage this week.

FERPA Modernization

I recently wrote about the new federal moves to update FERPA to handle the age of Big Data (should I have used scare quotes there?).

Yesterday the White House released its report on big data and privacy implications. The focus was broadly on big data, but there will be implications for ed tech, with several key recommendations specifically focused on the education sector. Specifically, there will be a push to update and revise the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA, enacted in 1974) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, enacted in 2000).

I was quite optimistic about the federal approach based on this report, and yesterday we got some more apparently good news – a bipartisan approach to improve data privacy and update FERPA made in a reasonable fashion (dogs and cats, living together). As reported by THE Journal, Senators Markey (D-MA) and Hatch (R-UT) introduced the “Protecting Student Privacy Act”, getting even a warm reception from the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), which had objected to the earlier version discussed in January. THE Journal summarized the key parts of the legislation (full text here):

  • Prohibiting the use of personally identifiable student data for advertising or marketing purposes;
  • Requiring certain safeguards be in place to protect the integrity of data in the hands of private companies;
  • Giving parents the explicit right to view their children’s data and make corrections to erroneous information;
  • Making available the names of every company that has access to a district’s student data;
  • Limiting the personally identifiable information that can be transferred between companies and schools; and
  • Ensuring that “private companies cannot maintain dossiers on students in perpetuity by requiring the companies to later delete personally identifiable information.”

FCC and Net Neutrality

Now that you’re in a good mood with renewed faith in federal policy-making, let’s bring back that cynicism. The FCC, despite significant protests, approved a plan to allow paid priority on the Internet, potentially killing the Net Neutrality concept. From the Washington Post:

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of advancing a proposal that could dramatically reshape the way consumers experience the Internet, opening the possibility of Internet service providers charging Web sites for higher-quality delivery of their content to American consumers.

The plan, approved in a three-to-two vote along party lines, could unleash a new economy on the Web where an Internet service provider such as Verizon would charge a Web site such as Netflix for faster video streaming. The proposal would, though, prohibit telecom firms from outright blocking Web sites.

THE Journal ran a piece in January showing the debate about Net Neutrality and how it could affect education. Some Pollyanna argued in that piece that [emphasis added]:

However, not everybody agrees with a grim conclusion that education is destined to suffer under a “two tier” Internet. “I think the reaction to the net neutrality ruling is overwrought and distracting,” said Phil Hill, co-founder of MindWires, an education technology consulting practice. What’s important to remember, he said, is that the court “actually agreed” that the FCC has “legal authority over broadband.”

Hill asserted that net neutrality “is an important principle for education, as we need freedom for students and institutions to access Internet services that are becoming more and more important without having broadband carriers decide on which services have priority over others.” However, he pointed out, “This should allow the FCC to implement new rules that don’t step on the toes of the common carrier rules. In other words, as long as the FCC doesn’t screw up, it should be able to regulate and enforce net neutrality with future rules. But there will be a lot of overheated rhetoric in the meantime. I see short-term confusion for K-12 but long-term there should be little or no lasting impact.”

Oh wait, that was me, and I was completely wrong.

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About Phil Hill

Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. He has written for e-Literate since Aug 2011. For a more complete biography, view his profile page.
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