President Obama wants to reshape the classroom. During a speech at a high-tech middle school in Mooresville, North Carolina, Obama presented his new ConnectEd initiative that would provide broadband and wireless access to 99 percent of U.S. public schools.
“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why can’t we expect that in our schools?” he asked the audience. “At a moment when the rest of the world is trying to out-educate us, we’ve got to make sure that our young people, all you guys, have every tool you need.”
This school wasn’t picked at random. Mooresville has improved test scores and graduation rates through digital learning. Starting at third grade, every student gets a laptop and high-speed, wireless Internet in their classroom.
Obama directed the Federal Communications Commission to start working on the project that would connect more classrooms and libraries with high-speed broadband by 2018.
“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 in a statement released by the White House. “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 goal is to help improve education and prepare students for jobs. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, whom Obama nominated to serve on the FCC, is already on board.
“President Obama’s ConnectED initiative recognizes that 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,” she said in a written statement. “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.”
Obama’s plan doesn’t need approval from the Congress, but it needs help from the FCC.
ConnectEd will cost several billion dollars. Obama wants to meet his goal by using the FCC’s E-Rate program. E-Rate is a $2.2 billion per year subsidy that allows schools and libraries to get discounted rates for Internet services through a nominal surcharge on phone bills, according to the Universal Service Administrative Company. One option for raising the money would be to impose a new temporary surcharge. Telephone customers would have to pay up to $5 a year extra on their bills.
The average American school has slower Internet connections than most homes, and fewer than 20 percent of educators say their school’s Internet connection meets their teaching needs, according to the White House.
The White House says the initiative will particularly benefit students in rural schools, where high-speed Web access still falls behind urban and suburban areas.