New vistas in children's educational media can be brought to you by the letter E, as in E-rate.
That was the message of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel Friday in a speech at the Sesame Workshop's Joan Ganz Cooney Center in New York.
Broadband can avoid a "vast wasteland" moment when it comes to children's content with the help of E-rate funding and the commitment to quality of people like those who brought Big Bird to the small screen, she said.
Back in the mid-1960's, when Sesame Street was being created, she said—according to a prepared text—it would have been easy to write off TV as an educational medium for children given that "only five years earlier President John F. Kennedy’s Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, famously called television programming a 'vast wasteland.'”
Instead, she said, Children's Television Workshop was created and Sesame Street was born.
Rosenworcel said that as children move increasingly to mobile broadband media, the temptation should be resisted to "dismiss the possibilities of so many new screens, connections and technologies."
That is where the FCC's revamp of the E-rate program comes in, she says, a "2.0" remake she has long championed. The E-rate program is the subsidy for high-speed broadband to schools and libraries.
Rosenworcel argues that the focus should be on speed as well as deployment. "By bringing really high-speed broadband to every school in every community across the country we will create new opportunities for educational content at new scale."
"The question is not whether or not children will learn from the proliferation of so many new screens, connections, and technologies," she said. "They will. The question is what could they learn? A generation ago, Joan Ganz Cooney and the Carnegie Commission harnessed the power of television to provide a powerful answer to that question. They taught us that television can teach. They showed us that it can help build early literacy and numeracy skills that lay the foundation for later learning. Now we can do even more."
Rosenworcel's former boss, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) was one of the creators of the E-rate program and Rosenworcel has made refocusing it on speed one of her signature issues.