The Federal Communications Commission in January made plans to invest $2 billion over the next two years to expand high-speed Internet connectivity for schools and libraries, in line with the Obama ConnectED initiative. The White House says the new effort will bring America close to giving 99 percent of schoolchildren Internet access within five years.
Funding for new investments in high-speed Internet will come from reprioritizing existing E-Rate funds to focus on high-capacity Internet connectivity, increasing efficiency, and modernizing management of the E-Rate program. The additional support will be targeted to address the most urgent Internet upgrade needs of schools and libraries. Today only about half of E-Rate funds go to true high-speed Internet connections.
The change generated a positive reaction in the education technology community, where the move was generally viewed as one part of what needs to be done.
Hanna Skandera, chair of Chiefs for Change and New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary called the move an important first step and said Chiefs for Change was committee to working with the FCC to modernize the E-Rate program.
“As state chiefs, we work with school leaders and teachers every day who rely on broadband connectivity to provide next generation learning opportunities for students,” she said. “These connections are important to supporting teachers who are implementing higher standards and providing personalized learning for students.”
The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals plan to continue advocating to improve the E-Rate program by streamlining the application process, increasing connectivity consistent with reaching all schools and libraries in need, and increasing the program’s investment to meet the current demand.
“We are very pleased to hear that E-Rate modernization is moving forward, and that President Obama will include funding in his FY 2015 budget proposal for professional development for teachers and school leaders as they transition to digital learning and high-speed connectivity,” said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. “School leaders rely on E-Rate funding to meet the technology needs of schools, especially as the transition is made to online assessments.”•