Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home
Moyers on America

learn more at: www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/

FOR EDUCATORS > Lesson Plan: The Net Neutrality Debate

This lesson is designed for Social Studies Studies and Language Arts classrooms, grades 9-12.

Lesson Objectives
    By the end of this lesson, students will:
  • Be able to explain the issue of Net Neutrality.
  • Watch a video and conduct Internet research to identify specific arguments for and against Net Neutrality legislation.
  • Write a persuasive one-page editorial that takes a position in the Net Neutrality debate.
Relevant Standards

Source: "Content Knowledge" (http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/browse.asp) by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning)

Civics

Standard 13: Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity.

Standard 28: Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals.

Economics
Standard 4: Understands basic features of market structures and exchanges.

Language Arts
Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process.

Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.

Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media.

U.S. History

Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States.
Estimated Time

One 45-minute class period

Materials Needed

Method (varies by school) of showing the class video and a graph from the MOYERS ON AMERICA Web site.

Backgrounder for Teachers

To prepare for this lesson, it is suggested that the following materials be reviewed:

Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

This lesson assumes that students have experience using the Internet for personal and academic purposes, including research. In addition, it is assumed that students are familiar with the basic structure and purpose of editorials.

Teaching Strategy

1. Ask students to provide examples of how they use the Internet. List responses on the board.

2. Point out that some activities listed (e.g., watching video) demand a more robust Internet infrastructure than other activities (e.g., sending a text email). Explain that such varied demands on the Internet's infrastructure have triggered a debate about 'Net Neutrality,' an issue rooted in how content should be delivered to consumers. In a nutshell, companies that provide 'high speed' or broadband networks (i.e., phone company DSL or cable Internet services) want to be able to charge higher fees to those who send data-heavy content on the Internet in return for getting that content to consumers faster than the content of individuals or companies who don't pay the higher fees. Broadband network providers say it's only fair that those who place a greater demand on the network should pay more. Critics of this approach believe that such a tiered system would limit the 'openness,' 'freedom' and 'neutrality' of the Internet because not all content providers would be able to reach consumers on a level playing field; those with money would be given an unfair advantage. Some also worry that network providers might block or censor some people's content.

3. Show students a 3:28 video clip on the Net Neutrality debate from the MOYERS ON AMERICA "Net at Risk" program. As students watch, have them list the concerns shared by those featured in the clip.

4. Discuss the following: Based on the information in the video, how has the Internet influenced the democratic process? Why is Net Neutrality such an important issue to Joan Blades of MoveOn and Michelle Combs of the Christian Coalition? Why does Mike McCurry, a lobbyist for broadband network providers, think government regulation isn't necessary?

5. Explain to students that they will dive deeper into the Net Neutrality debate as they conduct research and develop persuasive one-page editorials that express their positions on this issue. Then, distribute copies of the Editorial Prewriting Worksheet and point students to the following sections of the MOYERS ON AMERICA Web site:

Net Neutrality overview
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/neutrality.html

Quotes from those in favor of and opposed to Net Neutrality legislation
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/documents.html#debate

Summary of arguments from those for and against Net Neutrality
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/citizensclass/the_net_risk/net_neutrality/

6. Based on the abilities of your students, provide a deadline for completing the editorials and collect them at the appropriate time.

Assessment Recommendations

Check student understanding of the concepts in this lesson by:

  • Providing a short-answer question on your next exam that asks students to briefly explain the issue of Net Neutrality.
  • Grading the format and content of the persuasive one-page student editorials.
Extension Ideas
  1. Have students present their editorials and participate in a peer evaluation process. Such presentations and evaluations could take place one at a time before the class, or in small groups of 5-6 students.

  2. Invite students to share their perspectives on Net Neutrality more broadly by sending their editorials to their elected representatives or to a newspaper. Students could also produce podcasts to deliver audio versions of their editorials on the Internet. For students who do podcasts, ask them how a tiered system of Internet content delivery could potentially affect their ability to share such podcasts.

  3. Another topic addressed by the MOYERS ON AMERICA "Net at Risk" Web site is media consolidation. Explore this topic by first discussing the role of media in a democracy. Then, examine the graphic, "Who Owns the Media" (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/index.html), which outlines the holdings of the top six media companies. How might consolidated media ownership influence how media carry out their role? Have students research examples of such influence and present their findings. What implications might this situation have for democracy?

  4. The MOYERS ON AMERICA Web site for the program "The Net at Risk"
    (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/moyersonamerica/net/index.html) includes four Citizens Classes that provide in-depth information and discussions on, "The New Digital Divide," "Net Neutrality," "Community Connections" and "Big, Bigger, Biggest Media." Explore these topics in small groups and have students contribute to the online Class discussions.
Related Resources

Online NewsHour: Net Neutrality Analysis
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/media/jan-june06/netneutrality_06-22.html
This June 2006 interview from The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer presents arguments from both sides of the net neutrality debate. How to Write an Editorial
http://www.courses.rochester.edu/brickman/cas105/Editorial.html
This concise resource provides some general tips and a common structure for writing editorials.

About the Author

Cari Ladd, M.Ed., is an educational writer with a background in secondary education and media development. Previously, she served as PBS Interactive's Director of Education, overseeing the development of curricular resources tied to PBS programs, the PBS TeacherSource Web site, and online teacher professional development services. She has also taught in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

© Public Affairs Television 2006. All Rights Reserved. close this window