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Friday, June 22, 2012


Really?  This is the suggestion you want to move forward with?

Those who have the misfortune to read this blog on a regular basis (well, I guess I can't really call my posts "regular," but you know what I mean) know I've been turned into a SECA fanboy by this filing and this one.  Both of those filings were full of important and timely suggestions.

Instead of considering those changes, the FCC is asking for comments on SETDA's request to make remote VPN access from ineligible locations eligible.

I didn't bother to comment on SETDA's request because it's so insignificant.  First of all, VPNs are on their way out.  Everything is being webified, so the use of VPNs for remote access is going down.  Since VPNs were never all that well used in schools, it doesn't have to go down much to get to zero.  Second, those few schools with remote VPN access would be able to allow remote access from ineligible locations by claiming ancillary use.  So this proposal deals with an infrequent problem that already has a solution.

But since the FCC is asking for comments, here's mine:

Step away from the VPN.

Remember when Web hosting was first introduced?  It seemed like a good idea. Then a whole cottage industry popped up providing value-added Web hosting with a 10,000% markup.  VPN rules would make remote access to applications eligible, and those same Web hosts would increase their functionality and price.  And new cottage industries would pop up, offering schools functionality they don't need, and the E-Rate funding encourages schools to go for it.

And this proposal increases the digital divide.  Students whose families can afford broadband Internet access and a home computer will have access to school resources.  Students whose families cannot afford Internet access will be denied access to those resources.

Let's look at SETDA's reasons for making VPNs eligible:
  1. Give students access to content from home.  First, most of this stuff should be webified without much cost.  Second, if student access to resources from home is eligible, shouldn't the student's home Internet access costs be eligible?  Make VPNs eligible, and you've put an ugly can of worms in the can opener....
  2. Filter student access.  The only way that works is if parents agree to allow the school to configure their computer to force a VPN connection and disallow all other Internet access.  See, to get to the school's VPN, the home computer has to go on the Internet.  So the user can access the Internet without ever connecting to the VPN.  Computers can be configured to force a VPN connection, but I'm not going to let my school lock down the computers in my household.  To say nothing of the expense of configuring all those computers.
  3. Track student usage.  What?  How are schools going to use data on which websites students and their parents access from home?  I would not be happy to share my children's Web browsing with the school district, and I definitely don't want to share my addiction to online sudoku with them.
What SETDA mentions, but does not state outright, is that this would be useful for districts with 1-to-1 initiatives.  If I were a tech director giving out laptops to students, then I would want to configure them to force them to connect to the VPN and only browse the Internet through the school's infrastructure, both for content filtering and to reduce the chances of the computer getting infected.  So maybe I could see allowing schools to set up remote VPN access for school-owned devices.

But a school with a 1-to-1 initiative and this sort of VPN is going to find itself in the unusual position of needing more Internet access in the evening.  Because student Web browsing is going to use twice the normal bandwidth going through the school VPN (ignoring any overhead from encryption or connection management), because every page a student loads has to come in through the school's Internet connection, then go back out over the Internet connection to the student.  I can't speak for other kids, but mine definitely use the Internet more outside of school than inside.  I think they watch more TV shows on the computer than on the TV.  Those video streams would have to come in from YouTube to the school, then back out from the school to my kids.

Giving VPN access to students from home will force schools with 1-to-1 access to increase their bandwidth to handle their after-school traffic.

Even districts without 1-to-1 initiatives may run into problems.  If a district has reasonably affluent families, then a lot of kids will use the VPN to get at their school files from home.  Junior will want to tweak his PowerPoint presentation from home, and of course the presentation will include lots of large graphic and video files.  That monster .pptx file is going to eat up school bandwidth when Junior opens it and every time he saves.

Schools will have to increase Internet bandwidth to handle all the traffic outside of school hours, which will mean increased demand for E-Rate funding.  We really don't need to increase demand.

So to the extent this change will have any effect, it will:
  1. Provide incentive for schools to invest in a fading technology.
  2. Increase the digital divide.
  3. Increase bandwidth needs, thereby increasing funding demand.
Step away from the VPN.

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