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 International Journal of Education and Development using ICT > Vol. 1, No. 2 (2005) open journal systems 

A Pedagogical and Economic critique of student charges for Internet access

Duncan Greaves, Tertiary Education Network

Charging students for Internet access is a tactic that is widely deployed in South African institutions of public higher education, either to conserve bandwidth, or as a side-effect of a generalised regime of charging for services. In either case, there is a significant risk that tensions will arise between the educational objectives of maximising Internet access, and the control objectives of restricting it. This paper explores the nature of these tensions and ways in which they might be resolved. Financial crisis has led higher education administrators into reflection on the cost structure of their institutions, and has encouraged them to shift funding burdens wherever possible to the point of consumption. The cost of Internet use however is not easily attributable, since it costs nothing at all to transmit a datagram - the infrastructure costs remain constant whether circuits are full or empty. Charging then becomes either an exercise in pseudo-attribution or a simple mechanism of damping discretionary demand. It works, but is it educationally appropriate? To answer this question I elaborate on a number of analogies with the library, and suggest that charging for Internet access is in fact a disastrous approach. It creates artificial search costs, degrading the quality of information that can be evolved from Internet use; prevents students from developing a fundamental competence in forming judgements, based upon extensive testing, about the quality of information; fails to grasp the ludic nature of the web; amplifies digital divides, and finally is entirely unnecessary as a means of control.

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International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology. ISSN: 1814-0556