Academics need bandwidth too

Geoffrey Sauer on Eserver writes an excellent post, Net Neutrality and the Digital Humanities, that details why the recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to prevent the FCC from enforcing “net neutality” policies is a threat to more than our Netflix or YouTube access. Here is another view, from Sauer’s post, of what can and probably will be affected in these anti-intellectual times:

The problem is that if ISPs now seek to optimize their bandwidth for consumers, they’ll begin to measure how much bandwidth comes from various websites. And the move toward teaching multimodal content production in English depatments means that we’re not all publishing low-bandwidth content, like, for example, the edition of Aphra Behn’s The Rover I published on the EServer in 1996. Instead we may be publishing more work like the streaming video of Cheryl E. Ball’s presentation “Evaluating and Assessing Digital Scholarship for Teaching and Research” we recorded at Iowa State in 2010.

Throttling bandwidth for academic production is not the way to promote 21st century literacies (see Kathleen Yancey’s 2009 NCTE report that calls for these literacies. Link is to a PDF). Academics and their universities are not on an equal economic playing field with other high bandwidth users that produce revenue, such as Netflix or Hulu+. However, who ever said that commercial entities ever gave a hoot about academia or increasing literacy since the children’s books read for Pizza Hut’s long-ago Book-It program? Books are easy. Books are understandable as literacy as the general public understands it. There’s nothing wrong with Book-It. It was a superb program, but that was the early nineties.

What we have here is the possibility that web journals like Computers and Composition Online and Kairos could be shut down because of bandwidth costs to the hosts. I also think of purely artistic projects, such as the many online galleries or even the digital poetry project I’m beginning. Will this mean no art except art-for-pay? Will we all revert to the ancient days of sponsorship? it is increasingly coming to that. The big difference now is that instead of dedicating my poem to Lord Kindlyheart the way 1500-1800s poets did for the aristocracy who provided support, my next digital poem may state, “This poem was made possible by the fine people who work for AT&T,  providing communications for today’s communicators” (I just made that slogan up). Gosh, I hope not. I might have to write an annual, “On the CEO’s Birthday” poem, and I’m not sure the snark can stay out.  On the other hand, Billy Collins is way more likely to gain the AT&T sponsorship, so never mind. My poems will be lining shoeboxes.

Please contact anyone you know who would be in a position to influence a move back to the right direction. Your university would be a start. Your legislators, especially those friendly to education would be good people to contact also. Give them the link to Sauer’s post so that they too can see why all high-bandwidth users are not necessarily evil or generating the revenue needed to pay for access under this new plan.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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