Stakeholders rally in support of E-rate’s potential to expand 21st-century learning to students

E-rate-FCCThe Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 11 voted to increase funding to the federal E-rate program by $1.5 billion. The additional funding comes from a consumer telephone bill increase of $1.90 per year.

Ed-tech stakeholders have for years rallied behind the need to update the federal program, which helps schools and libraries receive discounts on broadband access and services.

The vote brings the annual program cap from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

“Broadband is the greatest equalizer of our time, but this only holds true if everyone has access,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in comments before the vote.

“Broadband and connected devices are changing every aspect of our lives,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “So many of our social spaces are now virtual. Plus the combined power of mobility and cloud computing means we can take content with us wherever we go. All this change does not simply stop at the school doors.”

(Next page: Educators react to the E-rate vote)

Connected classrooms now turn their attention to their ability to support demand for broadband, she added.

“Thanks to E-rate, more than 95 percent of the classrooms in this country are now connected to the internet. While this sounds good, the challenge today is no longer connection, it’s capacity. Too many of our schools and libraries that rely on e-rate often in low-income and rural communities access the internet at speeds as low as 3 megabits. That means too many schools are unable to offer high-definition streaming video, take advantage of the most innovative teaching tools, or provide modern science technology, engineering and math, stem skills that are so essential to compete. But we can fix this…But to take this program to the next level and truly make it modern, we have to take a fresh look at funding for the digital age.”

“We are talking about a moral issue,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “The greatest responsibility, the greatest moral responsibility that any generation has is the preparation of the next generation. 16 cents a month, less than the cost of a soda at McDonald’s over the course of a year, is a small price to pay for that great responsibility that we all have.”

Education groups were quick to offer their reactions to the vote:

“As we have seen year and after year, America’s classrooms do not have the needed technology infrastructure and related investments to cultivate learning environments that truly prepare students for college, career and life. Today’s vote paves that path for the current and next generation of America’s youth,” said CoSN CEO Keith Krueger.

“Raising the cap also ensures that more schools can achieve the broadband goals established by the Commission last July, including expanding Wi-Fi connections, robust networks and broadband speeds. The FCC also wisely expanded the program’s definition of rural to more appropriately target resources to less populated – and typically underserved – school systems.”

“With increased funding for high-speed internet connections, U.S. teachers and students will spend more classroom time teaching and learning rather than waiting for webpages and videos to load,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, in a statement.

“We are deeply grateful to Chairman Wheeler for his leadership and to Commissioners Rosenworcel and Clyburn for their vital support and advocacy on behalf of the nation’s students,” said State Educational Technology Directors Association executive director Douglas Levin. “Universal access to high-capacity broadband is as important to schools today as is access to water, electricity, heating and air-conditioning. In the future, today’s action will be viewed as among the most significant actions ever taken to change the trajectory of student success in the country.

“Moving forward, it will be vitally important for all of us to continue to work diligently to address the unique technology challenges facing rural and remote schools, as well as to ensure that all students are able to take advantage of digital learning opportunities when they are off-campus, including for homework, for personal enrichment, and when school is not in session.”

“ISTE is grateful to Chairman Wheeler for his bold leadership to increase the E-Rate fund. This additional investment to deliver high-speed connectivity to schools provides the basic infrastructure educators need to successfully deliver digital age learning,” said ISTE CEO Brian Lewis. “The future of learning means students need to be connected 24/7; the next step is to improve access for all students at home so learning isn’t interrupted. ISTE will to continue to work with the commission to connect students where they live and where they learn beyond the bell.”

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