President Wants to Increase Digital Access in America’s Schools

President Obama today called on the Federal Communications Commission to take steps  to build high-speed digital connections to America’s schools and libraries. Under the President’s proposal, 99 percent of American students would have access to these advances in teaching and learning.  Obama further directed the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get this technology into classrooms.

ConnectED, as the initiative is called, is intended to improve learning opportunities for America’s school children. A fact sheet released by The White House states the average American school has about the same connectivity as the average American home, but serves 200 times as many users. Fewer than 20 percent of educators say their school’s Internet connection meets their teaching needs, and teachers do not have training and support to integrate technology into their lessons.

The ConnectED initiative will bring 99 percent of America’s students to the digital age in the next five years through next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless connections in schools and libraries. It will improve the technology skills of teachers to help improve student outcomes. Finally, it will allow teachers and students to take full advantage of digital resources aligned with college- and career-ready standards being implemented across the nation.

Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission to use an existing program that funds Internet access in schools and libraries through a surcharge on telephone bills to meet his goal. The FCC has the authority to make changes to the program on its own and would not need Congress to approve. One option for raising the several billion dollars needed for the program would be for the agency to impose a new, temporary surcharge on phone bills, administration officials said.

“We are living in a digital age, and to help our students get ahead, we must make sure they have access to cutting-edge technology,” the President said in a news release. “So today, I’m issuing a new challenge for America – one that families, businesses, school districts and the federal government can rally around together – to connect virtually every student in America’s classrooms to high-speed broadband internet within five years, and equip them with the tools to make the most of it.”

ConnectED will also provide better broadband access for students in rural areas, by expanding successful efforts to connect parts of the country that typically have trouble attracting investment in broadband infrastructure.

The President announced the initiative at a school in Mooresville, N.C., where students, 40 percent of whom receive free or reduced-price lunch, use laptop computers. Those in kindergarten through third grade use them only at school; students in higher grades have them all day, seven days a week.