Making good on President Obama's promise in his State of The Union address last week to bring broadband Internet access to 99 percent of the nation's schools over the next five years, the FCC says it will double its funding to accomplish the goal, to $2 billion.
With the additional $1 billion to be spent over the next two years, it is estimated that at least 20 million students in 15,000 schools will have access to a faster broadband connection.
School districts throughout the U.S. have become more reliant on an Internet connection for tests, games, and other resources. In many of these districts however, the connection speeds are either unreliable or too slow to be useful on a consistent basis. The federal government created a program called E-Rate in 1996 to provide more than $2 billion annually to schools and libraries in order to improve their Internet connections.
In June 2013, the White House unveiled its ConnectEd initiative with the intention of widening the availability of high-speed broadband Internet access to schools and libraries. The initiative, part of a larger effort to modernize public education, is being pushed forward by the Federal Communications Commission.
A Necessary Change
As a result of E-Rate, the majority of schools and libraries have at least basic access to the Internet. While the U.S. is one of the best countries in terms of average Internet speeds, there are parts of many states like Arizona and Texas that have average Internet speeds under 3 Mbps. When schools in those areas attempt to access larger programs and services online, these speeds are simply not enough.
Now that children are growing up in a digital age and are being taught how to use devices early in their schooling, broadband speeds have become increasingly important, as they can either limit or expand what a school is capable of doing with computers, tablets and other electronics. Richard Culatta, Director of the office of educational technology at the U.S. Department of Education, told The Wall Street Journal that faster Internet speeds would be necessary to keep U.S. children competitive on the world stage.
"If we don't put significant national focus on the problem it will simply perpetuate," said Culatta, while talking about the more advanced Internet systems present in other countries like South Korea.
Not Just Money
Although the FCC is focused on providing money for faster broadband connections, the Obama Administration has taken a more holistic approach to the issue. Since the White House introduced ConnectEd in 2013, it has been working to find ways that will allow teachers to learn how to use new pieces of technologies in order to improve a school's learning environment.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was officially announcing the program Wednesday and, unlike in previous years, when the funds came from consumer charges on telephone service, the additional $1 billion will utilize unused grants from previous years. Along with providing money to improve broadband connectivity, the FCC will be cutting back on the funds that are put toward older technologies like dial-up.