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President Calls for High-Speed Broadband in 99% of Schools/Libraries

Obama Asks FCC, NTIA to Help Make It Happen within 5 Years by Leveraing E-Rate Program 6/06/2013 9:56 AM Eastern
The White House Thursday announced a new initiative to get high-speed broadband to America's schools and libraries.

The so-called ConnectED program has a goal of connecting 99% of students to high-speed wired and wireless broadband (speeds of no less than 100 Mbps and preferably 1 Gbps) within five years. President Obama called on the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to "modernize and leverage" its E-Rate program to achieve that goal. The E-Rate program provides discounted broadband service to schools and libraries through the Universal Service Fund.

"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," said Obama. "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."

The cable industry and the FCC have already teamed up to try and provide broadband to low-income students in their homes, and the focus of the Administration's BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) broadband subsidy program has been on anchor institutions like schools and libraries. But the 99% in five years goal is a new national benchmark.

"Throughout its history, the cable industry has continuously demonstrated an abiding commitment to our nation's schools and a deep appreciation for how broadband technology can help teachers, parents and students in promoting educational excellence," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell in a statement. "As the nation's premier high-speed Internet provider, we welcome today's announcement by President Obama and look forward to working with the Administration, the FCC and Congress to explore new ideas that will wisely modernize existing support mechanisms and connect America's schools with new tools for education and learning."

The announcement could prove a boon to consumer electronics and software companies, since one of the goals is to spur "feature-rich educational devices" and software.

The president is traveling to Mooresville, N.C., Thursday to showcase a school using cutting-edge technology in its curriculum.

The announcement drew high praise from around Washington, including from acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who suggested the commission was up to the challenge.

"For America to compete in the 21st century, we need to make sure all of our children and their teachers have access to the best learning technology," Clyburn said. "Over the last 15 years, the FCC's E-Rate program has successfully helped bring Internet access to our nation's schools and libraries. But basic Internet access is no longer sufficient, and the FCC has been taking a hard look at ways to further modernize the E-Rate program to bring robust broadband to schools and libraries, especially those in low income and rural communities. So I applaud the president for his bold vision. I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners and the many stakeholders as we answer the president's call to modernize this vital program."

"I wholeheartedly support the president's call to modernize the E-Rate program in order to bring faster broadband speeds to our nation's schools and libraries," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, who pointed out that she and FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel had outlined a similar proposal.

"Access to adequate broadband capacity to our schools and libraries is not a luxury -- it's a necessity for America's next generation of students to be able to compete," said Rosenworcel in response to the president's announcement. "Through the E-Rate program, the nation's largest education technology program, we have done great things to connect schools and libraries. But year-in and year-out, the demand for E-Rate dollars is double the amount the Commission makes available, and our surveys suggest that 80 percent of schools and libraries believe their broadband connections do not meet their current needs.  It is time to answer the president's call to upgrade the E-Rate program for the 21st century.  It is time for E-Rate 2.0. We need to protect what we have done, build on it, and put it on a course to provide higher speeds and greater opportunities in the days ahead.  This initiative is an exciting effort that has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), Rosenworcel's former boss and a longtime advocate for expanding the E-rate program (he helped create it), renewed his call for 1 Gbps in every school by the end of the decade.

"I share the president's enthusiasm for expanding high-speed broadband connections to our schools and libraries and agree the FCC should update the successful E-Rate program to meet that goal," he said. "At a recent oversight hearing of the FCC, I received public commitments from all members of the FCC to work with me to update and strengthen the E-Rate program. Today, I join the president and renew my call on the FCC to fund and adapt E-Rate to meet the needs of a data-driven society."