President Obama to Propose ConnectED Initiative – Substantial Funds for Upgrading School and Library Broadband Capacity
Today, President Obama will call on the Federal Communications Commission to ramp up its $2.3 billion per year E-Rate program to meet the ever-increasing needs of students, teachers, librarians, and learners for broadband capacity at our nation’s schools and libraries.
The ConnectED initiative has the goal of ensuring that 99% of public schools in the United States will have access to a minimum of 100 Mbps broadband connections within five years and the initiative will establish Gigabit connectivity as a goal. ConnectED is characterized as a one-time capital injection into broadband infrastructure for these community institutions. In 2010, the National Broadband Plan established a goal of Gigabit connectivity for schools, libraries, and other Community Anchor Institutions, and earlier this year, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel outlined her “E-Rate 2.0” proposal, which shares many of the same elements as the President’s ConnectED initiative.
Funding for the ConnectED initiative would come from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which currently collects and distributes approximately $8.2 billion per year in subsidies to telecommunications providers, schools, libraries, and rural healthcare centers. Of that, approximately $2.3 billion annually is spent on connectivity for schools and libraries through E-Rate. The E-Rate Fund size has barely changed since the E-Rate program was created in 1997.
ConnectED would be a significant and substantial increase in broadband capacity at schools and libraries. Today, according to an FCC Report, only 10% of E-Rate schools and libraries have broadband speeds at or above the President’s goal of 100 Mbps. In fact, 45% of schools receiving E-Rate funds access the Internet at speeds lower than 3 Mbps. Eighty percent of schools and libraries report that their current broadband needs are not served by their existing service.
While broadband has proliferated in the nation’s homes and businesses since the E-Rate was created in 1997, the E-Rate program has been slow to catch up. Sixty-four percent of E-Rate funding goes to support antiquated, traditional telephone and voice services like telephones and pagers, and only 25% is used to purchase broadband Internet connections. This distribution of funds is largely the result of existing FCC program rules written in 1997 that assign priority for certain categories of services and which cap the size of the E-Rate program overall. As a result, many school and library plans to upgrade their broadband infrastructure are delayed for lack of access to adequate funding.
Because the FCC administers the E-Rate program, the broadband infrastructure component of the President’s ConnectED proposal will need to be formally proposed and adopted by the agency. That process usually takes several months.
The President also will propose funding for education technology training for teachers and educators from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Those funds will invest in professional development and also will help train educators in the technology needed to implement computer-based assessments of student learning.
The President is scheduled to announce his ConnectED proposal this afternoon at Mooresville Middle School in Moorseville, North Carolina. Check back here for further information on the ConnectED proposal as more details are released.