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POTUS Photo Op

President Obama introduces an E-Rate upgrade program, ConnectED. The goal? To bring high-speed Internet access to every school in the U.S. in the next five years.

It may not be his biggest promise, but President Obama has set out to outfit virtually every school in the country with high-speed Internet access in the next five years. The program, ConnectED, calls for the FCC to upgrade its E-Rate program to bring schools Internet speeds of 1 gigabit per second.

Deftly pointing out that this program needs no approval from Congress, Obama told a crowd of students at North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District, “We can and we will get started right away.” Obama was visiting the district to trumpet its success in providing nearly every student with a laptop.

About 80 percent of schools, with an enrollment of more than 40 million students, do not have sufficient Internet connectivity to promote learning in the digital age, according to EducationSuperHighway.org, a nonprofit group that advocates for broadband service for schools. The program’s cost may add $5 a year to telephone bills.

The president’s goal will be reached by raising E-Rate’s cap for a three-year period to about $8 billion, according to Jon Bernstein of the Bernstein Strategy Group, a lobbyist representing CoSN and ISTE. Besides increases to account for inflation, the fund’s $2.38 billion budget has remained flat since its start in 1997. “The cap was set well before there were mobile wireless devices, iPhones, and iPads,” Bernstein says.

A factor behind this new initiative is the Common Core online assessments, which begin in the 2014–15 school year. The Department of Education has put $350 million into the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia to develop the assessments, but many districts and schools may not be technologically equipped to administer them. If the FCC approves the plan, it’s not clear when the new funds would be available. 

 

—Back to School 2013—

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