President Barack Obama has pledged to provide an estimated 20 million students across 15,000 schools with increased internet speeds. In his recent State of the Union address, president Obama referred to changes that are being made to make broadband a reality in American classrooms. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has stepped up to the plate to foot the bill for Obama’s initiative. The $2.4 million E-Rate program gives money to help fund “advanced telecommunications and information services.” A restructuring of this program will allow funds directed for broadband in schools and libraries to increase from $1 million a year to $2 million a year.
The specifics of this funding proposal are scheduled to be released later in the week at an event called Digital Learning Day. The event is designed to promote the use of technology in educational institutions. The initiative is expected to be funded by something called the Universal Service Fund, the parent program for the E-rate program. It is a program originally created to assist with the expansion of internet services into rural areas, as well as with providing these services to lower-income Americans. of the country. The move will be announced by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, who is expected to confirm initial reports that the program will be made possible without any additional taxation or levies for Americans. The funding for 2014 is set primarily to use funds allotted for use in previous years which have not yet been used to foot the bill for the increased services. Details of how the E-rate program will re-structure to allow for future funding of the initiative will be made clear at Wednesday’s announcement, but it is expected to be accomplished by the elimination of funding for outdated technologies such as pagers or dial-up internet.
The primary method the increased funding is expected to be applied is toward the increase of bandwidth for the educational facilities and libraries which are currently completely under-served. Many of these institutions have such outdated equipment and capabilities that it is essentially useless to attempt to teach the use of current technology because of the vast incompatibility with existing equipment. It is the intention of the program to bring these locations up to the point where they will be able to allow students to take advantage, at the very least, of streaming video services, with an eye toward eventually building wireless networks with future funds from the program. By the end of the decade, the level of technological access for students nationwide will be significantly increased if the program progresses as intended.
Statistics from a 2010 survey indicate that nearly half of the schools across the country suffer from this technology deficit. The same survey indicated that 60 percent of public libraries were unable to meet the bandwidth requirements of its patrons. For years, the public library has been the default answer for students who could not afford internet services at home to be able to complete homework assignments requiring net access. If this program is able to increase the availability of those services in classrooms and libraries, it is expected that the educational gap for lower-income students will be significantly reduced. If the FCC is actually able to foot the bill for this project without raising any taxes or issuing any assessments, many will be willing to call the program a success with very little prompting.