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July 22, 2013

FCC May Update Program to Connect US Schools, Libraries to Internet

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

The FCC (News - Alert) may be expanding its E-Rate program, which helps provide public libraries and public schools with improved Internet access.

Currently, the program is funded by $2.3 billion, and it would be updated under a new proposal. The New York Times said the updated program would move away from paging and long-distance calls. It would focus instead on “digital literacy” – including Wi-Fi, the newspaper said.

The new plan would also try to lower costs via bulk purchases and fewer regulations.

“One of the biggest obstacles to seizing the opportunities of digital learning in America is inadequate bandwidth at our schools and libraries,” Mignon L. Clyburn, the FCC’s chairman, was quoted by The Times. “Simply put, they need faster high-capacity connections and they need them now.”

President Obama wants to connect 99 percent of schools to the Internet within five years – at higher speeds.

“To get there, we have to build connected classrooms that support modern teaching — investments we know our international competitors are already making,” Obama added.

The Times reports that the E-Rate program was used to fund Internet connections to over 95 percent of American public schools.

Public schools and libraries want improved Internet connections. They have asked the government for over $4.9 billion for the expenses. Higher speed is considered important.

“We fail our students if we expect digital-age learning to take place at near dial-up speeds,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner. “Contrast this with efforts under way in some of our world neighbors. They are pouring resources into these subjects, into schools and connectivity.”

Funding for the E-Rate program comes from a tax phone bills.

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Industry Association (News - Alert) (TIA), a group representing makers and suppliers of communications networks, praised the FCC’s efforts on the E-Rate program.

"E-rate has been making advanced telecommunications technology tools more broadly available since its creation in 1996," Grant Seiffert (News - Alert), TIA president, said in a statement quoted by TMCnet. "Students and library users who might not have had access to broadband received it only because of E-rate. The FCC deserves credit for looking for ways to refresh the program as technology evolves."




Edited by Alisen Downey
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