Obama wants faster Internet in US schools. Would you pay $5 a year for it?
'We expect free wifi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools?' Obama said in pressing for an initiative to urgently upgrade Internet connections at US schools.
Technology is changing education at lightning speed. But thousands of schools in the United States still don’t have lightning-speed Internet connections to take advantage of the plethora of digital learning tools.Skip to next paragraph
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That could change dramatically within the next five years, with 99 percent of American students connected to next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless through ConnectEd, an initiative President Obama proposed Thursday.
Mr. Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve the federal E-Rate program that subsidizes broadband and wireless connections in schools and libraries. The goal is to improve the infrastructure needed for connection speeds of at least 100 Mbps (megabits per second) – and moving toward 1 Gbps (gigabits per second).
"In a country where we expect free wifi with our coffee, why shouldn't we have it in our schools?" Obama said during a visit Thursday to Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, N.C.
Mooresville students in grades 3 to 12 are issued a laptop, and all teachers are trained to use digital tools and content. The policy has led to a change in the “culture of instruction – preparing students for their future,” said superintendent Mark Edwards in a statement distributed by the White House.
The district launched its new approach in 2009, and the graduation rate climbed from 80 percent in 2008 to 91 percent in 2011. Although the district ranks 100th in North Carolina on the amount it spends per student, it ranks third in test scores and second in graduation rates.
There is no need for Congressional action to modify E-Rate, one of several subsidy programs paid for by FCC fees for the Universal Service Fund. The FCC could pursue the changes on its own, but would need to find savings or additional revenue. One way to raise the money would be a temporary yearly surcharge of less than $5 on Americans’ phone bills, administration officials said. Generally there is a public comment period before such changes are implemented.
“Over the past few years, schools have been relying on broadband more and more, they’ve been ditching textbooks … shifting to digital assessments and online learning … and more schools are going 1 to 1” in the ratio of computing devices to students, says Douglas Levin, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) in Washington. “That’s putting more and more strain on school networks,” he says, and the E-Rate program has not been keeping pace with demand.
An FCC survey in 2010 found that 80 percent of teachers in E-Rate funded schools (which qualify for help based on the level of student poverty) said their broadband connections were not meeting current needs. And at-home broadband connectivity stalled at about 65 percent, according to a 2012 report by SETDA. Mr. Levin says he is heartened that the president and the FCC have endorsed many of the recommendations put forward in that report.