The White House Thursday announced a new initiative to get
high-speed broadband to America's schools and libraries.
The so-called ConnectED
program has a goal of connecting 99% of students to high-speed wired and
wireless broadband (speeds of no less than 100 Mbps and preferably 1 Gbps) within
five years. The president called on the FCC and National Telecommunications and
Information Administration to "modernize and leverage" its E-rate
program to achieve that goal. The E-rate program provides discounted broadband
service to schools and libraries through the Universal Service Fund.
"We are living in a digital age, and to help our students
get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology," said
President Obama. "So today, I'm issuing a new challenge for America -- one that
families, businesses, school districts and the federal government can rally
around together -- to connect virtually every student in America's classrooms
to high-speed broadband Internet within five years, and equip them with the
tools to make the most of it."
The cable industry and the FCC have already teamed
up to try and provide broadband to low-income students in their homes, and
the focus of the Administration's BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities
Program) broadband subsidy program has been on anchor institutions like schools
and libraries. But the 99% in five years goal is a new national benchmark.
"Throughout its history, the cable industry has continuously demonstrated an abiding commitment to our nation's schools and a deep appreciation for how broadband technology can help teachers, parents and students in promoting educational excellence," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell in a statement. "As the nation's premier high-speed Internet provider, we welcome today's announcement by President Obama and look forward to working with the Administration, the FCC and Congress to explore new ideas that will wisely modernize existing support mechanisms and connect America's schools with new tools for education and learning."
The announcement could prove a boon to consumer electronics
and software companies, since one of the goals is to spur "feature-rich
educational devices" and software.
The president is traveling to Mooresville, N.C., Thursday to
showcase a school using cutting-edge technology in its curriculum.
The announcement was drawing praise from around Washington,
including from acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who suggested the FCC was
up to the challenge.
"For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make
sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning
technology," Clyburn said. "Over the last 15 years, the FCC's E-Rate
program has successfully helped bring Internet access to our nation's schools
and libraries. But basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and the
FCC has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program
to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low
income and rural communities. So I applaud the president for his bold
vision. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners and the
many stakeholders as we answer the president's call to modernize this vital
"I wholeheartedly support the president's call to
modernize the E-Rate program in order to bring faster broadband speeds to our
nation's schools and libraries," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, who pointed out that she
and FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had outlined a similar proposal.
"Access to adequate broadband capacity to our schools and
libraries is not a luxury -- it's a necessity for America's next generation of
students to be able to compete," said Rosenworcel in response to the president's
announcement. "Through the E-Rate program, the nation's largest education
technology program, we have done great things to connect schools and libraries.
But year-in and year-out, the demand for E-Rate dollars is double the amount
the Commission makes available, and our surveys suggest that 80 percent of
schools and libraries believe their broadband connections do not meet their
current needs. It is time to answer the president's call to upgrade the
E-Rate program for the 21st century. It is time for E-Rate 2.0. We
need to protect what we have done, build on it, and put it on a course to
provide higher speeds and greater opportunities in the days ahead. This
initiative is an exciting effort that has my wholehearted and enthusiastic
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), Rosenworcel's former boss
and a longtime advocate for expanding the E-rate program (he helped create it),
call for 1 Gbps in every school by the end of the decade.
"I share the president's enthusiasm for
expanding high-speed broadband connections to our schools and libraries and
agree the FCC should update the successful E-Rate program to meet that
goal," he said. "At a recent oversight hearing of the FCC, I received
public commitments from all members of the FCC to work with me to update and
strengthen the E-Rate program. Today, I join the president and renew my call on
the FCC to fund and adapt E-Rate to meet the needs of a data-driven