FCC To Overhaul E-Rate Program For High Speed Internet In Classrooms
July 21, 2013

FCC Approves Overhaul Of School Internet Subsidiary Program

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved an overhaul to its E-Rate program, a multi-billion dollar initiative centered on helping schools and libraries connect to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet.

"The FCC voted to propose various changes to how schools apply for and spend funds from the E-Rate program; for instance ensuring that the program would prioritize investments in faster broadband connections over some older technologies it also supports," Reuters reporter Alina Selyukh explained after the changes were approved on Friday.

The proposed overhaul to the $2.3 billion program will reallocate funds from extraneous programs such as paying for paging services and long-distance telephone calls to those that will help educational institutions establish Wi-Fi connections and otherwise "accelerate digital literacy," Edward Wyatt of the New York Times said.

Furthermore, the FCC will seek to institute a series of measures that will reduce the cost of Internet services, including the adoption of purchasing consortium and efforts to cut through administrative red tape (i.e. switching to electronic filings for applicants in order to cut back on paperwork), Wyatt added. The proposals will be made available for public comment before a final draft is completed, the New York Times noted.

Last month, while speaking at a middle school in North Carolina, President Barack Obama set a goal to ensure that 99 percent of all US students had access to high-speed wireless or broadband Internet by 2018. On Friday, he called the FCC's announcement "a first, important step toward realizing our vision of making 21st century classrooms available to every student in America," according to Selyukh.

When E-rate was established in 1997, only 14 percent of kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms had Internet access, according to the FCC. However, a recent survey of E-rate recipients revealed that nearly half had lower speed connectivity than the average US home - despite the fact that those classrooms and libraries have an average of 200 times more users than a regular household.

"Modernizing E-rate is critical for the future of our children and our citizens," the agency said in a statement. "We encourage all to comment on the reform proposals so that we can ensure that schools and libraries have affordable access to the high-speed broadband they need - in the most effective, efficient way possible."

"Today, the bandwidth of the typical American school is far too low to support today's learning technologies and demands," added US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "The U.S. once led the world in connecting our schools to the Internet, but our strongest international competitors are surging ahead of us because they know that giving students and teachers the right tools is vital to their economic strength."

Duncan said that it would "take a lot of work by everyone to restore US leadership" in this department, but that Friday's FCC vote "starts us down that path" and "marks a first step in a five-year effort that will have enormous benefits for students, teachers and families, and for our national competitiveness."