What Does Net Neutrality Have to do with Extension?

Every morning I have a habit of reading the Chronicle of Higher Education. Occasionally I will come across an article that provokes introspection. Today was the day for that article. This morning’s Chronicle had an article about the FCC, net neutrality, and the ed-tech companies that are testifying in an effort to maintain policies of net neutrality. (Full article)

So, to understand my morning epiphany, I need to explain what’s happening in the world of net neutrality. “Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication” (Wikipedia, 2014). Currently there is an effort underway to overturn net neutrality in an effort to allow companies to pay the FCC to make their product (websites) faster….essentially a “for pay” autobahn on the internet. This fee isn’t going to be cheap and speed is the name of the game on the internet. If only the largest, most profitable companies, can afford to pay, where does that leave entrepreneurship? And, even further, where does that leave education and Extension?

In the Chronicle article, there was a quote from Varun Arora, the CEO of OpenCurriculum (a site to allow K-12 teachers to share curriculum resources). “The operational cost of the entire company’s technologies for the first six months of its existence was less than $20. To my good fortune, I did not have to do a thing to ensure customers used my product over any competitive ones apart from winning in a meritocratic game by building a more and more superior product.” Did you catch that? Two key things: ”$20” investment and ”winning in a meritocratic game”.

What does that mean for the world of Extension? If you think of Extension as playing in a field of educational neutrality…meaning there are a lot of organizations out there providing educational content…and all of us have access to the delivery tools…yes, some of them easier, but then again, entrepreneurs don’t always have access to the most expensive, but they do leverage the tools at hand. (Thinking you can only do something if you have the perfect most expensive tool would imply that everyone with a personal fitness coach would look great, but no one without one could…yes, it might be easier, but it’s not impossible.)

As a whole Extension is a very entrepreneurial group. Is our cup brimming with entrepreneurial spirit…are we willing to take those calculated risks and really push ourselves forward? Maybe, not so much. So, what do we need to do to get there?

Are we leveraging our resources by considering alternative delivery strategies? Are we leveraging our resources in such a way that we are positioning ourselves to be the premier deliverer of educational resources? Are we taking on the goals of our contributors because they are financially supporting us….or are we partnering with organizations who meritoriously contribute to our organizational goals? How does net neutrality parallel our goal of providing unbiased education? Is maintaining net neutrality important to Extension? Are we as an organization ready to “scratch for it”…meaning does our organization have the entrepreneurial skills at a high enough level that we are prepared to do whatever it takes to make Extension nimble and timely…dare I say…relevant. Do we have resiliency? …Do we have GRIT?

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